Anton Chekhov Collection
From one of the greatest playwrights of all time comes this collection of masterly productions for the BBC. Included here are 11 of his best-known works. And since these were all produced for the BBC, this collection showcases an impressive array of some of the finest actors working in film and on the stage. Anthony Hopkins, Judy Dench, and Rex Harrison are just a few of those who have helped to capture all the nuance and complexity of Chehkov's family dramas.

This collection includes productions of Chekhov best known plays. Included are The Seagull with Michael Gambon, The Three Sisters with Anthony Hopkins, Eileen Atkins and Janet Suzman, two productions of Uncle Vanya starring respectively Anthony Hopkins and Ian Holm in the title role, and two productions of The Cherry Orchard: one with Judi Dench and Bill Paterson and the other with a cast including John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft, Ian Holm and a much younger Judi Dench. The bonus features include audio productions of an additional four plays and "A Visit from Vanya", a feature on Oleg Efremov, director of the Moscow Arts Theatre. It's an indispensable part of any theater lover's library.

8 x DVD9 | NTSC 4:3 | 1094 minutes | 59.9 Gb + 3% rec
Language: English | Subtitles: English
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Romance

In all Chekhov plays, you can be certain of three things: a doctor will be one of the sympathetic characters, there will be an extended meditation on the value of hard work, and the scene where the characters first walk on the stage will be the one where they are as happy as they will ever be.

This new compendium of BBC-produced Chekhov plays contains over 1,000 minutes of material, acted by a who’s who of British theater. It includes all four of the great classics, as well as a smattering of early materials, radio plays, short-story adaptations and readings, and a very interesting piece on the current Moscow Arts Theater’s workshops with English student and professional actors.

The DVD set is exhaustive (and, if you view too much of it in one go, exhausting) but provides a real depth of insight into these plays and their possibilities. For instance, there are two interpretations of The Cherry Orchard, one a black-and-white film adaption by John Gielgud from the 1960s, the other a 1981 play-for-television version. What’s interesting—and what points to the continuing fascination of Chekhov for some of the world’s best actors—is that Dame Judi Dench appears in both. In the earlier version, she plays the effervescent teenager Anya, hair pulled back in a braid, eyes sparkling and ready to fall in love. Twenty years later, she is the spendthrift aristocrat Madame Ranevskaya, worn out by life and about to lose her cherry orchard. The acting styles in the two productions could not be more different, the older version broader, more theatrical, and revealing a certain sexual heat between the boorish Lopatkin and Madame Ranevskaya (Peggy Ashcroft in this version). The newer one, on the other hand, is more closely shot and subtler, adapted obviously for the small screen, yet it would be very hard to say which is better.

Uncle Vanya, too, is offered twice, once with a young Anthony Hopkins in the (sympathetic doctor) role of Astrov, and again with Ian Holm in the same position. Both have a tricky role, conveying real intelligence and integrity temporarily suspended in the presence of a beautiful woman. Personally, I’d go with Holm’s version, warmer, more self-reflecting and less blustery than Hopkins, but both have depth and insight into the role. Holm is also lucky to be working with the American actress Mary Elizabeth Mastroantonio, a one-time Tom Cruise co-star, who here shows a great deal of subtley and intelligence as Yelena. Her scene with Sonya (Rebecca Pidgeon, who is the wife of the play’s director, David Mamet), where the two drink a toast to enduring friendship just before the one betrays the other, is a small triumph of understated acting, telegraphing an ever-shifting array of emotions without any kind of excess.

You get even more insight into Uncle Vanya if you watch the bonus features, especially a documentary on the Moscow Arts Theater’s outreach program. The director, Oleg Efremov, and his actors workshop the play with British theater students, and it’s a revelation how the text falls apart in the hands of the less expert. Whole scenes simply make no sense or have no tension in the hands of these inexperienced actors (in fairness, on their first time through the play). There is a long discussion of one of the play’s most pivotal scenes, in which Yelena visits Astrov’s study to speak to him about Sonya, her stepdaughter, who has fallen in love with him. The scene, which brings Astrov and Yelena’s own attraction out into the open, starts out with a long disquisition on the environmental degradation of Russia (a very common theme in Chekhov). Why, the director asks, did Chekhov leave this speech in, when it stops the action? The actors’ answers, and the director’s wry stab at explaining tell you a lot about the complicated emotional currents and countercurrents at work in plays where no one says what he means or means what he says.

Later in a workshop with professional actors at the Globe Theater in Stratford (you can see Fiona Shaw in the front row), the actors take over, and that’s interesting, too, because their interpretation is so much earthier, funnier and more physical than the British ones.

And finally, you can watch Uncle Vanya take shape by flipping to The Wood Demon, an early version of the play. Here Astrov’s character ends up with the girl and the play goes on much longer after Vanya’s suicide, but large chunks of the dialogue are exactly the same as in the final play.

This set gives you deep, varied insight into specific plays, but it also allows you to look across Chekhov’s entire body of work and see what’s common to all his plays. Much of it comes, not surprisingly, from his life. The son of a freed serf, educated as a doctor, but pulled back at various times in his life to save his family from economic disaster, Chekov’s biography contains all the threads that run through his plays. Every play has a long speech on the value of work, the boredom of aristocratic doing nothing. Every play has a doctor. Many of the works contain extended, prescient speeches on the value of healthy environment.

The additional materials are significantly more interesting than usual on this set, including a set of radio plays with Ralph Fiennes, Ian McKellan, and other actors, a series of short stories read by Ewan MacGregor (Chekhov is widely considered the father of the modern short story), and a theatrical adaption of one of those short stories, “An Artist’s Story”, starring Patrick Stewart.

Download The Anton Chekhov Collection: Platonov (1971), The Wood Demon (1974), The Proposal (1959), A Wedding (1961), The Seagull (1978), An Artist's Story (1974), Uncle Vanya (1970 and 1991 versions), The Three Sisters (1970), The Cherry Orchard (1962 and 1981 versions) 8 x DVD9:









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