Tony winner Michael Mayer’s film adaptation of one of Anton Chekhov’s most acclaimed plays, is a fantastically acted and brilliantly verbose tragicomedy which relies as much on its original source material, as it does on its surprisingly accurate adapted screenplay. Written by Stephen Karam and staring Annette Bening, Saoirse Ronan, and Elisabeth Moss, amongst other well-known Hollywood faces, The Seagull tells a tale of unrequited love, obsession and blinding jealousy in a story which is as engaging as it is hugely thought-provoking.
The action takes place in the Russian countryside at the turn of the century where aging actress Irina (Annette Bening) has come to stay at her ailing elderly brother’s country estate. Along for the ride, Irina has brought her current lover, the popular writer Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll), a man whose charm and unequalled eloquence soon attract the attention of Nina (Saoirse Ronan), an ambitious and bright-eyed aspiring actress who also happens to be the love-interest of Irina’s son Konstantin (Billy Howle), a deeply troubled aspiring playwright.
Sensing the instant attraction between Nina and Boris, Konstantin soon flies into a blind rage, which also sees him accuse his mother of not caring enough about him and abandoning him in the countryside with no money or prospects. All of which makes for a highly volatile dynamic between the young man, his mother, her lover and the rest of the group which also includes the taciturn and depressive Masha (Elisabeth Moss) who is secretly in love with Konstantin.
Last seen in one of her best roles to date in Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool, Annette Bening gives a masterful and fun turn as Irina. Jumping from hilariously over the top, to deeply touching moments, Bening does a great job in understanding her character’s inner turmoil and motivation without ever overdoing one or the other. For her part, Saoirse Ronan is yet again faultless in a role which she carries with commendable ease, further confirming that she is truly one of the most naturally gifted actors working in Hollywood right now. Elsewhere, Elisabeth Moss offers a suitably glum turn as Masha, while Billy Howle offers an awe-inspiring performance as the dangerously unnerving Konstantin.
Mayer has devised a beautifully complex, fun and thoroughly absorbing narrative which is only slightly let down by feeling unnecessarily stagey and a little stuffy. Having said that, The Seagull still manages to hit all the right notes and in the right order. Add to that Stephen Karam’s impeccable and knowing screenplay, and you’ll have a perfectly well-turned out adaptation of a much-loved play which is set to please even some of the most die-hard Chekhov purists.