Adaptation of Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" set in rural Australia in the 1920's. Jack Dickens and his niece Sally run the family farm to support brother-in-law Alexander as a (supposedly ...
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Adaptation of Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" set in rural Australia in the 1920's. Jack Dickens and his niece Sally run the family farm to support brother-in-law Alexander as a (supposedly brilliant) literary critic in London. Action begins when Alexander returns with his beautiful young wife Deborah, revealing himself as an arrogant failure and wanting to sell the farm out from under Jack. Blakemore introduces themes about Australia's separation from England, as well as expanding the pacifist and ecological philosophies espoused by the local Doctor Max Askey. Written by
The first thing to do if one is to derive any pleasure from "Country "Life" is to forget Chekhov. Admittedly the film carries a disclaimer insofar as it is only "Suggested by Uncle Vanya", but having said this it is even more remote from Chekhov that Nikita Mikhalkov's "Unfinished Piece for Mechanical Piano" which carries a similar disclaimer "Themes from the works of...". This aside, "Country Life" is an agreeable piece of period soap set just after the end of the First World War with pretty visuals of New South Wales's Hunter Valley. Like "Uncle Vanya" it tells of the disruptive visit of a pretentious elderly professor-type and his attractive young second wife to the relatives of his deceased first wife living in a rundown country estate. There all resemblance ceases. Chekhov had a genius for taking a group of characters and exploring each one with equal depth so that even the eponymous Uncle Vanya is but one of several equally fascinating characters. In "Country Life" the focus of attention is placed on the elderly pedant, not unsurprisingly played by the director himself, Michael Blakemore. Would it be cynical therefore to suggest that the film becomes something of an ego trip! The rest, even the Uncle Vanya figure, are curiously colourless by comparison except for that 1940's glamour girl, Googie Withers, still going strong one is glad to see, who turns up as an elderly, domineering and tetchy family cook and almost steals the show. I cannot quite see why the film was made but at least it is harmlessly entertaining. For the real thing I went back to Stuart Burge's filmed adaptation of the Laurence Olivier 1963 Chichester Festival production of Vanya: sans very much in the way of scenery, sans music, apart from a bit of on-stage guitar stuff, monochrome and sans very much in the way of interesting camerawork and visuals, but with Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Joan Plowright, Rosemary Harris, Max Adrian, Sybil Thorndike and Lewis Casson, a cast to dream of in as powerful a piece of filmed theatre as one is likely to find anywhere.
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