Country Life

Director: Michael Blakemore

The latest entry in the upmarket Merchant-Ivory school of cinema is the Australian Country Life, which has bee cunningly adapted from Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya by writer/director/actro Michael Blakemore. The result is a classy item, steeped in a kind of melancholy nostalgia, with solid performances and a good dose of down-to-earth Aussie humour.
Blakemore, who left his native Australia decades ago for a successful career as a theatre director in Britain, has skilfully transposed the Russian characters of the original into a convincing group or rural Australians living just after World War One. Jack Dickens (John Hargreaves) has abandoned his own literary ambitions to run the farm he inherited from his father, his elderely mother (Patricia Kennedy) lives in the house, as does his niece Sally Voysey (Kerry Fox). Sally was abandoned by her feckless father, Alexander Voysey, after her mother, Jack’s sister died.
Every month Jack sends hard earned money to his brother in law to support him in his careeras a literary critic in London. Sally, a good harted plain Jane, is hopelessly in love with the local doctor Max Askey (Sam Neill), who is hardly aware she’s around.
The story revolves around the return of the long absent Alexander (Blakemore) and his much younger wife, Deborah (Greta Scacchi). It is quickly apparent that alexander is a pompous bore (he has, in fact, left the London literary scene in disgrace) and Deborah isn’t especially happy. Jack and Askey hover around the alluring stranger, to the distress of poor, ignored Sally….
The actors, for the most part, rise to the occasion, with John Hargreaves as the naive, betrayed Jack, and Kerry Fox as the lonely, loveless Sally particular standouts. Sam Neill brings some complexity to the role of Askey, who’s a pacifist and leftist at a time when such befiefs were decidedly unfashionable and who has a secret drinking problem. Blakemore himself makes the arrogant Alexander a splendidly unlikeable snob.

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