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This production may have been good on the stage, but its transferral to film gives little indication of that. Theatre acting is very different to film acting, and when you point a camera up close to a theatre production, the actors look absurdly stylised and over-the-top. Here, in 'Uncle Vanya', one of the classic works of nineteenth-century naturalism, everyone struts around like marionettes, as if they're acting in a play by Marlowe or Brecht. The actress who plays Yelena suffers especially; her graceful movements and slow, musical delivery are presumably intended to project the idea of a fashionable city woman, but in close up she is almost unwatchable. It's a shame, because behind the film you can sense a great production. Michael Redgrave is a good Vanya, suitably dissolute and hangdog. Max Adrian is funny as the cranky old professor, and Joan Plowright is sweet as Sonya (although she's far too old for the role). But there are also some terrible misinterpretations; Laurence Olivier's representation of Astrov as plump, dapper and jolly is bizarrely wrong. You get no sense that Astrov has spent the last ten years working without a break in the cholera-ridden swamps amongst starving peasants-indeed, Olivier cuts the lines that describe all this! Similarly, the entire production is too polite and inoffensive; there's no real sense of bleakness, and no sense that the characters exist in a real, living world (an effect that Chekhov was so good at). Worse still, all the characters treat Vanya as a likeable, amusing companion, with the result that his cynical comments and miserablist pronouncements have no bite at all. This is a film of interest only to theatre historians and would not be a good way to introduce newcomers to Chekhov. Watch 'Vanya on 42nd Street' instead, which is not only a better production, but is also a real film, rather than a clumsy recording of a stage production.
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