This film is based on Anton Chekhov? play, Uncle Vanya (see literature annotation). It started out as an acting exercise and the actors worked on it for five years before the actual filming was done. The film is set in a crumbling Times Square theater, where the actors perform with no costumes and very few props. Andre Gregory plays himself, the play's director.

The story centers on a provincial Russian family whose lives are all upset when an aging professor retires to their country estate, bringing along his beautiful young wife, Elena (Julianne Moore). The result is that he is dissatisfied and people are brought together who are bored and in love with people who can? love them back. Astrov, the family doctor (Larry Pine) who falls in love with the young wife, is more interested in ecology than in medicine.


I have found this film to be very useful in literature and medicine classes when we read short stories and plays by Chekhov. The beauty and frustration of Chekhov? writing come through loud and clear in this timeless drama of faith, hope and the redemptive power of love. By having the actors perform in street clothes, the play's contemporary impact is emphasized; the play/film demonstrates so beautifully that few life situations are new.


Adapted by David Mamet for the screen.

Primary Source

Columbia Tristar Home Video