Thursday, 8 October 2015

Nina (1978)

Nina is an earnest and authentically downbeat exploration of the life of Russian dissidents in exile here in the UK at the height of The Cold War because of their political views. 

Written by Jehane Markham and directed by Alan Clarke, the play concerns the titular Nina, played by the wonderful Eleanor Bron, and her lover Yuri, played by Jack Shepherd. Markham wrote her script from her experiences of campaigning for many political exiles and the central character of Nina is in fact based on Marina Voikhanskaya who, like Nina in the play, was a doctor in Soviet Russia who found herself in a situation where she was being ordered to give medication to patients who had no need of it, simply to shut them up and keep them so doped up that they could not continue their critical attacks on the communist regime. Marina managed to leave Russia but had to leave her son behind, with the understanding that he would be allowed to join her in the UK in the near future. However, once Marina arrived in the West, the Soviet authorities reneged on the deal keeping her son effectively as a hostage back in Russia. All of these things figure in the play itself.

But Nina isn't just a political piece, it's actually more a love story, and a doomed one at that. The freedom Yuri and Nina have longed for in the West comes at a price. Away from their position of attacking the system from within, Nina finds Yuri impossible to live with. He's frequently drunk and in debt, and seems preoccupied with playing to the romantic stereotype of the exiled dissident and relying on the liberal kindness of the Amnesty crowd rather than effectively integrating with society itself. Ultimately Nina's desire to adapt wins through and their love is destroyed in scenes of great domestic disharmony.

It's not all doom and gloom though, there's one (just the one, mind) very funny scene featuring Yuri, as a guest in someone's house, stripping naked in the bathroom to wash his smalls, singing loudly along to the then Eurovision chart hit 'Save All Your Kisses For Me'. When he finds his hosts have turned the radiators off, he is forced to wear Nina's underwear which he is discovered in by the hostess bringing breakfast in the morning!

Shepherd and Bron deliver very effective performances, with Shepherd adopting a complete different physicality to his role to suggest his foreign identity. Bron is more quiet, more weary and sophisticated, which is totally in keeping with the personality of her character. She would go on to have a relationship with Alan Clarke after filming concluded, Clarke having once been in a relationship with Markham.

To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic plays please sign the petition I started here

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