Version: 1994; starring Sam Neill, Greta Scacchi
Plot Summary: [from imdB:] “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.”
My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not be comparing it to that novel. Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.
I felt in the mood for a movie with Sam Neill in it one night, so sat down to watch this on Netflix. I was curious as to how a classic drama by a Russian playwright would turn out placed into a different time era and setting (post-WWI Australia).
This movie is light, colorful, and captures the heat and ruggedness of Australia well. The acting isn’t bad and Greta Scacchi is a beautiful actress to watch play opposite Sam Neill. As one character tells her, she is ‘too lovely to be sad.’
Unfortunately, I think the point of Chekhov’s play escaped me. I wish I could pretend to be more of an intellectual, but I just couldn’t like this story. Debra is married to a much older man, and they don’t really seem to be that fond of each other. We learn later that her husband messes around with other women. I felt bad for his poor daughter Sally, who works the family farm, cheerfully serves her family with an invisible hand, and is secretly in love with the local doctor, yet she receives no rewards for any of her efforts. Her uncle, who also works the farm, has a kind heart but when he realizes that for years he’s been funding a fraud instead of the brother-in-law he’s always admired, he blows a gasket. What made the story miserable was watching Debra shamelessly flirt with the man she knows her stepdaughter is in love with. By the end of the movie, things aren’t much different from where they started. Debra and Alexander still don’t love each other, Uncle Jack still agrees to fund Alexander’s expensive way of life, and Dr. Askey is still oblivious as to who makes sure to pack his sandwiches.
I have no idea how close to the original Chekhov play this film comes, but lovers of Russian literature may be interested in this film set in Australia as a different twist. I wouldn’t particularly recommend it otherwise.