What price movie modernizations of literary classics? The news that “Hurt Locker” and “Twilight” actor Christian Camargo will make his directorial debut with an update of Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” set in the New England countryside over a hectic Memorial Day weekend, raises the question again.
Variety reported on Wednesday that the actress Juliet Rylance, who is Camargo’s wife, and the New Globe Theater founder Barbara Romer will produce the indie picture. Camargo has assembled an impressive cast: Allison Janney will play a movie star based on Chekhov’s Irina, William Hurt will play her brother (based on Sorin), and Katie Holmes “the temperamental daughter of the estate’s caretaker” (Nina). Russell Means and Jean Reno will co-star. Rylance and her stepfather, Mark Rylance, are also in negotiations for parts.
Given audiences’ affinity for period atmosphere, re-envisioning period dramas in the present is a risky proposition, as the makers of the 1997 “A Thousand Acres,” based on “King Lear,” and the 1998 “Great Expectations,” will testify, though the latter Dickens adaptation made $26 million, surprising given its embarrassing modernity. “Treasure Planet” (2002), a sacrilegious animated adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island,” meanwhile returned less than $54 million on its estimated $140 million cost. Enough said.
Sometimes, though, there are surprises. “Clueless” (1995), Amy Heckerling’s Californian high-school version of Jane Austen’s “Emma,” overcame its gimmickry with the help of a fleet script and a new star in Alicia Silverstone. Its look has dated with its fashions – in sharp contrast to “Metropolitan” (1990), indie filmmaker Whit Stillman’s auspicious East Coast version of “Mansfield Park,” which retains its preppie charm – but the zest of “Clueless” remains infectious.
“Cruel Intentions” (1999) and “Cruel Intentions 2” (2000) made nonsense of Chodleros de Laclos’s “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” though they can be forgiven for opening doors for Reese Witherspoon and Amy Adams, respectively.
“The Seagull” is a particularly difficult challenge, given that New York has staged exceptional theatrical versions in recent years. In 2007, Ian McKellen, Frances Barber, and Romola Garai appeared in the Royal Shakespeare Company production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
In 2008, the Royal Court’s acclaimed 2007 production arrived at the Walter Kerr on Broadway with a cast that included Kristin Scott Thomas, Peter Saarsgaard (as Trigorin), Peter Wight (as Sorin), Mackenzie Crook, Zoe Kazan, and Carey Mulligan, who gave a standout performance as Nina.
Indeed, Holmes will have her work cut out trying to match Mulligan’s tearful intensity in the role, or Garai’s tremulous melancholy. Then again, a play is not a film, and maybe Camargo has something different up his sleeve for the role of the would-be actress who becomes enslaved by her desire for the callous Trigorin.