Magazine article Screen International

'The Seagull': Tribeca Review

Magazine article Screen International

'The Seagull': Tribeca Review

Article excerpt

Saoirse Ronan and Annette Bening light up Michael Mayer’s screen version of the Chekhov play

The Seagull

Dir. Michael Mayer. US. 2018, 98 minutes

The Seagull, Anton Chekhov’s classic play about failed hopes and tangled attractions, is solid and satisfying in Michael Mayer’s intimate retelling for the screen. Standouts in the ensemble cast are Annette Bening at the top of her game and an exquisite pre-Lady Bird Saoirse Ronan, who should bring new exposure to this wry look at pre-Bolshevik Russia.

Mayer avoids conventions of the stage in his third feature

Any film with Ronan now will connect with a younger audience that might not otherwise watch a screen adaptation of a play that was required reading at school. The young star’s name on the marquee means more right now than Bening’s and Ronan offers the chance to take The Seagull beyond the art houses and the Chekhov purists, although the purists shouldn’t mind too much.

Still, Mayer and screenwriter Stephen Karam have structured their streamlined script around Bening’s character of Irina Arkadina, a vain and self-involved diva. We witness the fanfare around Irina’s performances in the film’s overture and we see posters for those shows on the walls of the country house where the action (with lots of talk) unfolds.

Irina doesn’t miss a chance to demean her son, Konstantin (Billy Howle), an over-serious young man with a taste for the pompous avant-garde and for young Nina (Ronan), a local girl aspiring to the theatre who performs his bombastic outdoor one-person show. Irina inadvertently (more likely deliberately) causes Konstantin to stop the play when she wonders in stage-whispers what’s happening on the makeshift platform in the woods.

As the ball gets rolling, we learn that Konstantin loves Nina, that lonely Masha, the estate manager’s daughter (Elisabeth Moss), loves Konstantin, and that Nina is awed by the visiting writer Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll), who encourages her attention, which stokes Irina’s jealousy.

Checkhov completed The Seagull in 1895, when Russians would soon have more important things to worry about. …

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