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The Cherry Orchard Review

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Five years after her young son's death, the airy Madame Lyubov Ranevsky (Rampling) returns from 1900s Paris to her sprawling Russian estate, having lost all her roubles - and some of her marbles - to a caddish beau. She, and her family, are faced with the prospect of selling off her land and her Cherry Orchard to salvage a living.

★★★★★

Five years after her young son's death, the airy Madame Lyubov Ranevsky (Rampling) returns from 1900s Paris to her sprawling Russian estate, having lost all her roubles - and some of her marbles - to a caddish beau. Left in the care of equally dreamy brother Gaev (Bates), and despite the best efforts of icily efficient foster daughter Varya (Cartlidge), the whole place has gone to pot. The only financial option remaining is to chop down their precious cherry orchard and sell off the land for summer villas. Being arrogant, ignorant elitist dinosaurs suffering from a chronic case of denial, Lyubov and Gaev refuse to countenance such a shabby idea, yet can only weep into their samovar when the inevitable happens and they are left desolate, homeless and surrounded by the haunting sound of falling cherry trees.

If it helps cushion the blow, veteran Greek Michael Cacoyannis is by no means the first - and certainly not the last - director who has floundered in an attempt to translate and tailor the physical intimacy and nuances of what is quite obviously a theatrical experience to the more expansive demands of celluloid. Lord knows, he couldn't have picked an abler cast of thesps to do justice to Anton laugh-an-hour Chekhov's melancholy comedy than the one he's corralled here. Plonk them on boards at the National Theatre - or any theatre, come to think of it - and the chattering classes would be jumping through hoops to get a ticket.

Watching the same troupe labour under Cacoyannis stagebound direction on the big screen, however, is a different kettle of fish. The fault isn't so much felt in the individual performances, which are regimentally good - Rampling has a timeless elegance, the spirited Cartlidge burns with feisty vitality beneath the poker face and hairgrips, and the redoubtable Bates can do effete charmers by rote - as with Cacoyannis inability to ignite the cinematic imagination or use the camera as something other than a portable proscenium arch. Dignified, elegiac and interminably, soporifically, luvvie-ly dull.

Dignified, elegiac and interminably, soporifically, luvvie-ly dull.