In a prelude he's added to Anton Chekhov's classic drama, director Michael Cacoyannis (Zorba the Greek) takes us to Paris with Anya (Tushka Bergen) to retrieve her mother, Madame Lyubov Andreyevna Ranevskaya (Charlotte Rampling) and bring her back to their family estate in Russia. The year is 1900 and change is in the air. Lyubov has been seduced and abandoned by a lover after her money.
Back home, she is treated like royalty. The estate contains a luxurious cherry orchard, the largest in Russia. For Lyubov and her lazy billiard playing brother Gaev (Alan Bates), the orchard reminds them of their privileged childhood and the bounties of the fast-fading aristocracy. For Trofimov (Andrew Howard), the tutor of Lyubov's late son who tragically died in a drowning accident, the orchard is a symbol of evil for it was maintained by slaves. And for Lopakhin (Owen Teale), the wealthy and successful businessman who grew up on the estate as a serf, the orchard has no moral, sentimental, or aesthetic interest. It is a commodity to be sold. In fact, he urges the Ranevskayas to build and rent holiday villas on the site in order to pay off the mortgage. If they don't come up with the money, the mansion and the property will have to be auctioned off.
Lyubov and her brother, so used to a life of ease, postpone any action. She continues to give loans to a neighbor and for a brief period fantasizes that her adopted daughter Varya (Katrin Cartlidge) will save the day by wedding Lopakhin, who seems interested in her. Meanwhile, Gaev even makes plans to get a job at the bank. But his octogenarian butler Feers (Michael Gough) knows that is nothing more than a pipedream.
It is wise not to come to The Cherry Orchard with exalted expectations. It has always been a talky drama that veers toward sentimentality. And the decline of the gentry in Czarist Russia doesn't exactly grab us by the lapels. Yet Chekhov's charitable treatment of all the varied characters in the drama is worthy of praise. This story tutors us in the practices of kindness and compassion for those caught up in the trauma of change and loss.