Friday, September 25, 2020

Recasting 1987: "Anna"

My guess is not many people are aware of Polish director Yurek Bogayevicz's 1987 drama Anna. Neither was I until earlier this year, when I came across its title doing a little research for this recasting project. Having read the film's synopsis, I quickly became intrigued by the title role, brilliantly portrayed by the great Sally Kirkland. 

It's true I'm a sucker for a new accent. Anna is a former Czech actress who defects to the United States after the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. Considered "aging" in her early 40s, she struggles to find work in New York. When Anna and her on again-off again partner Daniel take in young actress who just arrived from Czechoslovakia (Paulina Porizkova), a bit of an All About Eve scenario ultimately ensues, with the lovely young protégé stepping into her mentor's former spot in the limelight. 

1987 was a big year lead actresses! Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, Cher in Moonstruck, Holly Hunter in Broadcast News, Barbra Streisand in Nuts, Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Sarandon joining Cher in The Witches of Eastwick, Diane Keaton in Baby Boom, and of course Meryl in her Academy Award-nominated performance in Ironweed. But out of all those fantastic roles and performances, while there are several I'd get a kick out of seeing Meryl portray, Anna seems to be the best fit for this year. 

Coming off of a somewhat comic performance the year prior in Crimes of the Heart, the role of Anna would have been a great dramatic role. It was based on the life of Polish actress Elżbieta Czyżewska. While not exactly a biopic, it provides a backstory of how Anna left Czechoslovakia, having giving birth in a prison after having almost killed a man in Prague. 

There are a few threads of Sophie in this, of course. I hesitated a bit at first including this film in my recasting, thinking Meryl would've been too young for the role. Kirkland portrayed a 44 year-old. Had Meryl filmed this around the same time she did Ironweed (early '87), she would've been just about to turn 38. Not a lot of actresses are going out of their way to portray women older than they need to. But Meryl has never really demonstrated that vanity. She's lucky enough not to have had to worry quite as much about that back then. It's really been about the role for her, and that's what has provided her such great longevity...not being predictable and not being afraid to appear "un-pretty." Just take a look at her roles from 1986's Heartburn and Ironweed:

Streep in Heartburn
Streep in Ironweed

Not exactly glamorous turns. Thirty years ago, pushing forty was a little more dubious than it is nowadays for film actresses. I think this role may have been one with which Meryl would've identified, even if she had been a tad younger than the part called for. 

Kirkland deservedly won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama and went on to earn her only Academy Award nomination for the performance, ultimately losing out to Cher for the aforementioned Moonstruck.



  1. Again I've never watched this but will have to now! I know of it obviously because of the Oscar nomination (and the "notorious" campaign ran by Kirkland).

    My two main reasons for choosing "Fatal Attraction", apart from it being an iconic role are that it would be interesting to watch Meryl play someone breaking down and losing control in front of us and also because the movie was a massive hit.
    For many years "Out Of Africa" was Meryl's biggest box office hit and I would like to see her in at least a couple of splashy 80s movies.

    You definitely got a hit in with "Romancing The Stone", who knows what you have planned next!

    I consider Meryl's performance in "A Cry In The Dark" to be her top 5 ever so I'll be sorry to lose it but if I can place my guess for 1988 I say "Gorillas In The Mist" - a great role, social issue and location shoot.

    My personal choice would of course be "Dangerous Liaisons", as I've banged on about here before!

  2. I first heard of this film while watching the Oscar ceremony for 1987 in early 1988. I'd just moved to Sydney to go to university, and even though I'd already sniffed out every cinema from the big chains to the little arthouse screens, I'm pretty sure 'Anna' never made it to these shores and I've never thought to seek it out online, which I will certainly do.

    We have some restrictions to streaming here. I could not watch 'Crimes of the Heart', for example, but I'll try to find 'Anna'.

    Another well-thought-out choice Jeff! Loved the mini gallery of Meryl playing 'ugly'... that half-completed perm in 'Heartburn' was hilarious! and everyone loved the (very) faded flapper singing 'He's Me Pal!'.

    For 1988 I'm also plumping for the Marquise de Merteuil in 'Dangerous Liaisons'. Streep also looks a lot more like the real Dian Fossey than Sigourney Weaver (not that that's always the main criteria... look at how she portrayed Lindy Chamberlain!) so a turn on 'Gorillas in the Mist' would have really worked.

    I can also imagine Streep in the Kelly McGillis role as the attorney in 'The Accused', although with a rewrite expanding the emotional stakes for that role. There has always been talk that she was in the running for it (as was Jane Fonda, apparently). The role of Kathryn Murphy could have been an extension of those "gritty realism" roles for women in their thirties and forties that I mentioned in your post on 'Agnes of God', so it's interesting to see what a missed opportunity they were by 1988. There would have been a stack of actresses more apt than McGillis, who was only riding high on the strength of 'Top Gun'. The key female production team on 'The Accused' would also have been a big draw for Streep.