The Seagull, 2018.
Directed by Michael Mayer.
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Annette Bening, Jon Tenney, Corey Stoll, Elisabeth Moss, Billy Howle, Brian Dennehy, and Mare Winningham.
In the early 20th Century, a disparate group of relations, colleagues, and neighbours gather at a lakeside retreat to boast, perform, and argue amongst each other about class, talent, and their varying successes. Undercutting their conversations is a tangled web of unrequited love, that threatens to destroy these fragile relationships.
Adapting Anton Chekhov’s revered play, The Seagull, is made slightly easier when it boasts the kind of stellar cast which A Home At the End of the World director, Michael Mayer has managed to invite down to the lake house. However, the ease with which it steps from the boards to the big screen is quite a slow process, and largely dependent on whether you’ll allow yourself time to adjust to the cadence and unavoidably stagey manner of proceedings.
Those without a tin ear for such things will revel in hearing Chekhov embellished by the likes of Elisabeth Moss, whose delightful delivery of lines such as “I’m touched by your love, I just can’t return it, that’s all” make you wish she was given more screen time, but The Seagull is the very definition of ensemble, the actors share the spotlight, which is ironic for a film in which the characters would do no such thing.
Saoirse Ronan might be the poster girl of the movie, the Ladybird of the lake drifts around the main players in a soft focus fashion, but isn’t really given that much to chew on until the films final act. So it’s Annette Bening who steals The Seagull, with a show stopping performance befitting of her catty character; clinging onto the vestiges of youth, while surrounded by those who’re just coming into theirs. She’s extremely funny, tossing around barbed asides laced with venom, but says as much with a look than most actors would with reams of Chekhov; whether that’s the devastation of seeing her beau (Corey Stoll – fine) rowing to a romantic spot with a younger woman, or the movie’s final devastating beat.
There are times when you feel that some characters talk a lot when you wish they wouldn’t, while others don’t say enough when you’d like them to, but when they all get together there are some wonderfully playful scenes. Sometimes the drama is undermined by an awful little upbeat Downton ditty which accompanies the shenanigans of this roll call of detestable spectres, but scenes such as the dinner table discussion and the prelude to Lotto, are a wicked delight. In fact, it’s when The Seagull begins to spiral into darkness that it tightens its grip.
It’s solidly directed, but Mayer adds very little to the film in terms of style, instead choosing to let his cast do all the work in a point and shoot fashion. It’s a look perfectly suited to a stage adaptation, but the canvas and scope that cinema offers could have been utilised better.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel crowd will lap it up, as will those with a penchant for the play, but like this reviewer, if you find yourself stopping over with this insufferable bunch, burdened by the caveat of having never seen Chekhov’s work, the cast will just about make it worth your stay.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt