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Madame Ranevskaya (Rampling) is a spoiled aging aristocratic lady, who returns from a trip to Paris to face the loss of her magnificent Cherry Orchard estate after a default on the mortgage. In denial, she continues living in the past, deluding herself and her family, while the beautiful cherry trees are being axed down by the re-possessor Lopakhin (Teale), her former serf, who has his own agenda. Written by
Chekhov's plays have generally resisted film and TV adaptations: Sidney Lumet's "Sea Gull" was lumpy and not well cast, and even the Russian film adaptations have been turgid affairs.
Michael Cacoyannis' version of "The Cherry Orchard" (originally titled "Varya" after one of the main characters), is better than Lumet's film largely because it's better acted in general. But the direction is sometimes fussy, sometimes leaden - the pacing becomes more and more turgid as the film progresses. The final 40 minutes or so become very tedious. Plus there's an unnecessary prologue in Paris - an obvious attempt to open up the play, but it goes on much too long.
Charlotte Rampling does very well as Madame Ranyevskaya, a near-penniless aristocrat who returns to her family estate as it is about to be auctioned after a default on the mortgage. Rampling clearly shows us a aging woman who is spoiled, charming, childish, delusional, sometimes haughty and condescending, and feckless - a person who never learned how to manage money because she never felt she had to. Her performance makes this woman less conventionally sympathetic than others in the role - which is fine. There are times when her performance is undercut by some jarring editing where her mood swings from one extreme to another.
The rest of the cast is quite fine: Alan Bates as Ranyevskaya's equally feckless and lazy brother Gayev shows us the man who knows full well his coming fate, yet goes through fits of denial to coddle his sister and the others; Michael Gough as the increasingly senile family servant Fiers; Tushka Bergen as Ranyevskaya's daughter Anya.
The best acting comes from Katrin Cartlidge as the hapless, lovesick, foster daughter Varya, a soul sister to Sonia of Uncle Vanya; and Owen Teale (who was superb with Janet McTeer onstage in "A Doll's House") as Lopahin, a former peasant whose family worked on Ranyevskaya's farm but who has now become a successful businessman. His efforts to convince the fading aristocrats to save themselves by selling the estate fall on deaf ears, so he decides on a different plan of action.
I would recommend seeing this only to people who are familiar with the play. First-timers would be better off seeking out a good stage production (lots of luck there) as Chekhov has always worked better there.
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