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Originally published Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 3:01 PM

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Movie review

'Anton Chekhov's The Duel': A drama of selfishness and folly

"Anton Chekhov's The Duel" is an English-language drama, inspired by Chekhov's novella, starring Andrew Scott as a bored aristocrat with an inconvenient mistress (Fiona Glascott).

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'Anton Chekhov's The Duel,' with Andrew Scott, Tobias Menzies, Fiona Glascott. Directed by Dover Koshashvili, from a screenplay by Mary Bing, based on the novella by Chekhov. 95 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains nudity). Meridian.

As the title hints, "Anton Chekhov's The Duel" is an unusually faithful adaptation of an essential Chekhov story.

Like the 1891 novella, this English-language production is a devastating portrait of selfishness and folly. The only admirable character can be a bit of a fool; the male protagonists are driven by irrational pride; the women tend to be petty and/or irresponsible.

What makes the story more than a simplistic attack on humanity is Chekhov's ability to capture more than two dimensions in his characters. What redeems them is his sense of humor, which is always lurking somewhere in the background, ready to assert itself just when a different perspective is needed.

The gifted Israeli director, Dover Koshashvili ("Late Marriage"), has assembled a British-Irish cast that always seems in tune with this approach. They underline the satirical moments but also give dramatic weight to the kinds of ideological conflicts that lead, almost inevitably, to a crack-of-dawn confrontation between two men with pistols.

As the bored and whiny aristocrat Laevsky, Andrew Scott quickly locates the gentle comedy in a character who seems to resent each lovely day in a Black Sea resort town.

As Laevsky's silly, married mistress Nadya, Fiona Glascott slyly emphasizes the character's awareness that their relationship has become precarious.

The story begins with the news that Nadya's husband has died. Laevsky hides this fact from her, while seeking advice from his kind and overly generous best friend, Samoylenko (Niall Buggy), a doctor who thinks Laevsky should marry her immediately. "Providence itself tells you what to do," he declares.

But Laevsky no longer loves Nadya and he's looking for a way out. This will involve a trip to Petersburg and the hope that Samoylenko will pay for it.

Observing all this, from a disgusted distance, is a zoologist, Von Koren (Tobias Menzies), whose flirtation with Darwin's theories leads him to do a little social engineering. Menzies, who made such a memorably tricky Brutus in HBO's "Rome," is once again convincing as a man driven by unreliable impulses.

Mary Bing's script ends more abruptly than Chekhov's story, but the finale is satisfying nonetheless.

Much of what is spelled out in the book is artfully condensed for the film, which was shot in Croatia and is pretty enough to double as a tourist lure.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

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