Directed by: Dover Koshashvili Written by: Anton Chekhov (novel), Mary Bing
Starring: Andrew Scott, Fiona Glascott and Tobias Menzies
The Duel, based on Chekov's 1891 novella of the same name, is set in a sublime sea-side retreat where young wretch and faux aristocrat - Lavesky's (Andrew Scott) rampant gambling and drinking has brought him to the brink of financial ruin. He lives in sin with a mistress, Nadia (Fiona Glascott), who uses flirtations and sexual currency to maintain her status until his amoral behaviour pits him against the righteous man of science Von Koren (Tobias Menzies). The characters in The Duel have little to no admirable qualities and the pacing of the film feels like it's as long as it would be to read the novella.
The further that you delve into Lavesky the less you like him. That said: Andrew Scott's performance is pretty marvellous. Scott initially makes it almost impossible to think that he could be a man that would be able to take a woman out of a marriage - but the glimpses of power and debonair still peek through the barrage of vices and weaknesses. It's a physical performance that has moments that blow you away - with adjustments to posture Scott's able to change how you perceive the character.
Nadia (Fiona Glascott) is living in sin with Lavesky; hidden away from her former life. Nadia's a freer spirit that the constraints of her time will allow her to be. Glascott's performance is good at registering her outcast position in the town's aristocracy. She's financially unstable shunned and outcast by the ladies of the town, but becomes a target for the more enterprising and sleazy gentlemen of the town. Her vulnerability gives her performance glimpses of real power, but overall I felt unmoved by her plight.
Von Koren (Tobias Menzies) was the most interesting character for me. He navigated the journey from restrained and civil, chivalry to a scarily scientific desire to cleanse the town of Lavesky's weakness. Van Koren's relationship with the preacher was an interesting aside that felt underdeveloped. The synergy between their characters representing religion and science felt like a greater statement about this older time being on the precipice of progression.
Overall the restrained and slow literary pace of The Duel became taxing. The locales and the production design are beautiful and authentic but it feels like this story really isn't adding anything new (the novel was written in 1891 - apologies Chekov but I'm not speaking out of turn).
The Duel challenges the audience to watch it; but with unlikeable characters and a tedious pace you may just want to put your gun up to your own mouth and end the misery.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
The Duel is released in Australia on the 7th of June 2012, and is available on DVD/Blu Ray the U.S.A and U.K.