with screenwriter Mary Bing.
Intensely dramatic battle between science & art played out in a Black Sea resort in Imperial Russia sometime around 1890. Von Koren (Tobias Menzies) sees Laevsky (Andrew Scott) as the epitome of aristocratic decadence, & the intensity of this hatred mystifies both of them. Intellectually astute with sumptuous production values in the best Merchant/Ivory tradition. Click HERE for FF2 haiku.
Photos reposted from Rotten Tomatoes.
More from Penny…
Don’t judge a book by its cover or a film by its poster! What appears to be a “period romance,” is actually a ferocious battle of wills dressed up in gorgeous costumes. On the one hand, we have Von Koren: aescetic & unforgiving. On the other hand, we have Laevsky: spoiled & petulant. Watching Laevsky with his beautiful mistress Nadya (Fiona Glascott), Von Koren becomes obsessed with the thought that they might soon “breed,” further despoiling the human gene pool. To Von Koren, these idle aristocrats represent nothing less than the ruination of the species.
Andrew Scott perfectly embodies Laevsky–this handsome man who was clearly once a pretty boy. We know from the self-important way he carries himself that he’s always been the light of his mother’s life, never disciplined as a child or told he could do wrong. His character is now shallow & mean, & watching his despicable behavior (especially the hateful way he treats Nadya both in private & in public), I wanted to kill him myself. But when Von Koren takes up his pistol & begins to aim…
Von Koren is a man who thinks he has all the answers, & that arrogance sets us against him, making us root for Laevsky even knowing all his faults. Seeing the film first (as I almost always do), my heart was pounding at the end. I really didn’t know what would happen, & that’s a rare treat for a film lover in today’s mind-numbingly predictable multiplex. Then, going back & reading Chekhov’s original novella, I was further dazzled. The speeches he writes for Von Koren capture the essence of Nazi ideology; we will soon hear these arguments again from those who stood at gates of Auschwitz, deciding who went left & who went right.