Country Life Review

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Jack and Sally run the family farm, in order to support Alexander, who has a (supposedly) brilliant career as a literary critic in London. When Alexander returns, with a beautiful young wife in tow, family tensions boil to the surface as it appears he may have been lying all along.


Any film based on Uncle Vanya, Chekhov's doom-laden stageplay about Russian peasants falling for the same gorgeous woman, sounds like it's going to be a first-class ticket to snoozeville. But Michael Blakemore's antipodean spin on the play has much to savour, generously sprinkled with a low-key, beguiling strain of Down Under comedy.

The time is post World War I, the place rural Oz, where the Dickens family are gearing up to welcome their long lost relative, Alexander Voysey (Blakemore), back home from a long and, supposedly, distinguished critical career in London. He arrives with his lovely new wife Deborah (Scacchi), fully intent on wringing every ounce of deference out of his culture starved, rustic relatives. His long abandoned daughter Sally (Fox) and brother-in-law Jack (John Hargreaves) lead the welcoming committee and are soon bowing and scraping to the manipulative Alexander's every request. But as his stay lengthens, so resentments boil to the surface and Jack slowly realises that Alexander is nothing more than a talentless flake with a very pretty wife he doesn't deserve.

The tangled soap operatics that ensue ramble on casually through various romantic knots, mingling the bittersweet with moments of delightful comedy that are, however, just too few in number to satisfy. It doesn't help that nothing of great consequence happens; situations remain unresolved and no one comes out of it any happier than when they went in.

The very classy cast somehow manages to make this light, yet intelligent production appear far weightier than it really is.