Country Life

on July 28, 1995 by Wade Major
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In view of the cinema's myriad failures to reconceptualize great stage works for the screen, the mere fact that "Country Life" manages the task so admirably is cause for celebration. Chekhov purists may take a skeptical view of writer/director/actor Michael Blakemore's recasting of "Uncle Vayna" as a tale of turn-of-the-century Australian outback, but most audiences should find the spirit of this version more palatable than last year's pretentious "Vayna on 42nd Street."
   The familiar story here unfolds in the Great War's wake on an Aussie sheep farm run by Jack Dickens (John Hargreaves) and his niece Sally Voysey (Kerry Fox). When Sally's father, distinguished London drama critic Alexander Voysey (Blake-more), returns after 22 years, he brings a new (and much younger) wife, Deborah (Greta Scacchi), whose repressed sexuality ignites the passions of both Uncle Jack and Sally's secret love, family friend Dr. Max Askey (Sam Neill). The stage is set for the classic maelstrom of conflicting manners and emotions that has made the "Uncle Vayna" story so timelessly popular.
   One of the world's most renowned theatre directors, Blakemore more than proves his cinematic mettle here. Neither claustrophobic nor overly talky, "Country Life" strikes a cautious and curiously successful balance between the often imcompatible dramatics of stage and screen, breathing exotic life into a familiar and otherwise uncinematic tale. Much aided by solid technical credits, "Country Life" eventually takes on a character and identity all its own--not as literate or weighty as "Vayna," but no less emotionally true. A testimony to the timelessness and universality of Chekhov's themes and to Blakemore's intuitive understanding of them, "Country Life" proves even the oldest dog can be taught new tricks. Starring Sam Neill, Greta Scacchi, John Hargreaves, Kerry Fox and Michael Blakemore. Directed and written by Michael Blakemore. Produced by Robin Dalton. A Miramax release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for some sex-related scenes. Running time: 110 min.
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