Review: The Seagull Lacks Passion, Despite a Strong Cast

The first of two new films starring Saoirse Ronan coming out this month (On Chesil Beach arrives next week in Chicago), this adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull doesn’t add a tremendous degree of spark to this tale of family and friends assembled at a lakeside Russian estate during a summer where everything changed for most in attendance. Adapted by two celebrated Broadway creatives—Tony-winning playwright Stephen Karam (The Humans), producer Tom Hulce (star of Amadeus), and director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening)—uses comedy that isn’t especially funny and drama that seems overwrought to tell the story of fools in love with someone who doesn’t love them back or those on the receiving end of it.

The Seagull Image Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Ronan plays Nina, an aspiring young actress in love with would-be playwright Konstantin (Billy Howle), son of acclaimed actress Arkadina (Annette Bening, positively radiant and ravenous is every scene). Arkadina has brought a handsome younger man and acclaimed writer, Trigorin (Corey Stoll), to the estate, which belongs to her ailing brother, Sorin (Brian Dennehy). It doesn’t take long for Nina to fall for the more stable Trigorin, making both mother and son insanely jealous. The cast is rounded out with the likes of Elisabeth Moss as the perpetually down and drunk Masha, who pines for Konstantin while ignoring that Medvedenko (Michael Zegen) is throwing himself at her in a most embarrassing fashion. Also on hand are Jon Tenney, Mare Winningham and Glenn Fleshler.

This adaptation makes a few adjustments in time period and chronology (most of the story is told in flashback, which is not like the play), and while it may certainly bring to life the stage production by placing the action at an actual estate, with a beautiful lake and expansive woods surrounding it, it doesn’t make the work any better. Any signs of life in this production come courtesy of this exceptional cast, many of whom rank as performs I would literally watch in anything they do, particularly Bening, Moss, and Ronan.

The Seagull is certainly a pretty film, but the production’s famed natural language seems all but ejected—if not in the actual text then in the highlighting of it. Sadly, this version of the story is dull and spineless despite a few actors who are truly trying to bring something to life. It’s not unwatchable, and if you collect performances the way I do, there are certainly a few choice ones to view. But I actually found it difficult to stay focused while watching this limp take on a classic Russian tale. It’s not passionate enough to despise, nor is it strong enough to ever want to revisit.

The film opens today at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema.
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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.