Three Sisters (1970)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Family Drama, Period Film  |   Run Time - 165 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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It's valuable to have a screen record of Anton Chekhov's celebrated drama of dreams delayed and crushed, especially with a first-rate British cast under the direction of Laurence Olivier. After a rather stiffly played first act, the drama seems to catch fire -- no pun intended -- during the nighttime scene in which most of the male characters return from helping to put out a conflagration in the village. The third act, in the garden with the soldiers about to depart amid the impending duel between Vassili and the baron, concludes the film on a strong note. As a director, Olivier may have had only modest resources at his disposal to "open up" the action (there is one montage of scenes dreamt by Irina that take place outside the house and offer a transition from Act II to Act III), but compared to his Shakespeare trilogy (Henry V, Hamlet, and Richard III), this feels less like a drama re-imagined for the screen and too much like a photographed play. The performances are finely tuned, but none catch fire, but for one: Joan Plowright's smoldering Masha. Her exchanges with Alan Bates' Vershinin are eloquent expressions of repressed desire, and her weary sighs at the failings of almost everyone around her offer the only shades of wit in the proceedings. And she does have one scene with her real-life husband as the volatile doctor in the third act, which also sets off sparks.