I found few things attractive, I didn’t like it, mostly due to my lack of passion for some of the men in this film: McAvoy, Giamatti. Who I found wonderful was Christopher Plummer, who gives a strong performance and makes the best out of an unbalanced screenplay.
Helen Mirren plays Sofya Tolstaya, long-time wife of legendary Russian writer and mentor Leo Tolstoy. Sofya is somewhat of a drama queen, a smart stubborn woman who’d do anything to get her way: and what she wants is to stop her husband from giving away the copyright of his books to the Russian people. She despises Chekhov, friend of Tolstoy, whom she considers a freak and a negative influence. Hers is a showy role and a second-leading one, to McAvoy’s Bulgakov.
To Mirren’s credit, she gets that limited screentime (just 36 minutes!) and acts it so that you really do consider the countess as a leading character and maybe the driving force of the film. Her presence on screen benefits the movie and it’s obvious she’s a scene stealer. She has great chemistry with Plummer, but unfortunately there isn’t enough of the two of them. More scenes could’ve brought some bonus points to her performance.
Mirren plays the countess with a very young, lively spirit. She never lacks charisma and, considering the diva status of the character, is the most colourful presence of the cast. The Countess gets involved in all kinds of silly, exaggerated situations (spying on the balcony, breaking dishes, throwing herself into the pond) meant to give a more funny, light feel to the film. This works both ways for Helen:
On one side, it’s nice to show a bit of range and it’s entertaining to see her acting to her full divaness. The film is already stiff and dull due to McAvoy and especially Giamatti, so her craziness is a breath of fresh air. However – yes, however – she sometimes gets too relaxed and confident in such scenes. It’s like she’s on the stage acting in a farce and makes the acting wider and less believable. The main fault of course falls on the unbalanced screenplay which shifts tones a bit too often.
Some might not have a problem with these lighter scenes and just generally tag them as overacting. Because Mirren does overact, but, in those funny scenes, it looked to me more like… get ready: like she was having too much fun and didn’t take the role a bit more seriously. Having fun with a character is something I almost always applaud, but this time I’m feeling the other way around.
I am missing a deeper approach to the character, as there were scenes in which Mirren, just like the screenplay, treated the character or the scene a bit superficial. It’s this lack of subtlety that stops me from caring for this character or to find it relatable and so on. I don’t care what’s gonna happen to Countess Sofya and I was almost never moved by the performance (minus that final scene, which I won’t be spoiling now).
Is it prejudice directed at this performance because I generally saw it as category filler and nobody I know really enjoyed it? It might be, I sometimes get a bit influenced. I might’ve been looking for reasons not to like it, but what I am sure of: it’s a performance that didn’t move me and I didn’t relate to it. I usually go for overacting, but this time I won’t. Am I finally seeing clear and stepping away from Helen Mirren’s real life charms or am I too harsh and just wanna be in line with all those who said this is ignorable stuff? I have no idea: .
P.S.: I’m taking the final photos for this post, I might’ve been a bit too tough on Helen; she does have good acting moments, it’s just one of her best roles.