Seven books: Anton Chekhov

Once upon a very long time ago, there were — as well as the usual commercial cinemas — no less than three cinemas in Cambridge showing foreign and/or older films. There was the lovely small Arts Cinema in the middle of town; out along Mill Road there was the Kinema; and then there was the huge Rex Cinema in Magrath Avenue. The last two were very run down and had seen much better days. But they would, in term time in my student days, each show two programmes a week, each programme showing two films — often in mini-seasons, say of Garbo’s films, or Eisenstein’s films, or classic westerns, or the then-new French nouvelle vague. I and my friends saw a lot of films. And the seasons would repeat too for new generations of students. I must have seen Jules et Jim five or six  times if I saw it once.

One film I particularly fell in love with was that most perfect of literary adaptions, the 1960 Russian film of Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Little Dog”, Dama s sobachkoy. Seeing it again after all these years, it is still magically evocative, and so very true to Chekhov’s story as I soon discovered. For it was the film that introduced me to the writing, firstly in that old Penguin collection Lady with Lapdog and Other Stories. And I must have taken the now rather battered copy from the shelves most years since to re-read a story or two, though most often by far that title story again.

That book led to other collections of Chekhov stories, and eventually to the plays. One of the great theatre experiences of my life was seeing a touring production of Three Sisters when living in Aberystwyth.  The staging and acting — I think originating from Theatr Clwyd — were brilliant. But what made the atmosphere in the theatre so intense was that so many of the audience there really did dream of going to Moscow, to Moscow. Or at least away from that remote part of Wales. There is a Chekhov story there …


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