It feels weird for a film critic to be talking about Uncle Vanya because it isn’t actually a film. It’s a recording of a production of Anton Chekhov’s classic play that was delayed (say it with me now) due to the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.
Firstly, it must be said that it’s surely wonderful for the cast and crew involved in this production that now this will be able to be seen by far more people than would have ever seen it in a theatre. Though admittedly it wouldn’t be anywhere near as satisfying watching it on a screen rather than on a stage.
However, the director clearly wanted to make sure that the true theatre experience be upheld for this filming as there’s never really any effort made to make this feel like a film. The shooting mainly consists of shots of the whole stage with close ups of the actors here and there. If you’re a theatre buff then of course this won’t phase you in the slightest. But if you’re a film fan wanting to see Richard Armitage’s acting abilities outside of playing Dwarves and Serial Killers, then you may feel a little bored with the lack of dynamic or engaging directing.
It would be foolhardy for a film critic to publicly give their opinion on a play. Though many writing and acting skills do pass over to film, theatre is a very different medium. There’s a lot more focus on dialogue and speech in the writing while the acting is always much louder and less focused on realism.
However, it is fascinating to note how timely Uncle Vanya (written in 1898!) is. Within the story, all the characters are suffering from boredom from being stuck at home, worrying about environmental destruction and shedding their woes about ageing and love. Sound familiar? It goes to show that the human experience never really changes. Technology and quality of life may improve as the years go by, but people will always have the same problems.
As mentioned before, as this is a play, it’s harder to critique things like editing, music etc., as these aren’t really considered on the stage. You can however recognise the acting on display. You can tell that both Toby Jones and Richard Armitage are truly at home here playing these characters they clearly care very much about. It’s highly likely that Armitage even studied this play at his time in LAMDA. Roger Allam has a smaller but still significant role in this play and though his character is much less vocal, he’s still a great presence. One gripe however is how the actress playing Toby Jones’s mother seems to be about the same age as him.
If you enjoy theatre then you will surely enjoy this. It’s very much a quality play filled with great acting along with a classic script. However if you’re more of a film person looking into more theatrical projects, then something like the production of Hamlet with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart will be more up your street and an easier watch.
Uncle Vanya is available to buy now on DVD/Blu-Ray.