Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Recasting 2009: "The Last Station"

I realized something as I was approaching my selection for 2009. It's been festering a bit without me really connecting the dots. My old tag of Shoulda Coulda Wouldas is really just a bridge between my Reimagined History and this current recasting project. And the neurotic need I have to compartmentalize how I look back on Meryl's screen career therefore sort of exists in three layers. Bear with me. 

The first is her actual career. There's a very real filmography that anyone can look up to see which projects, in fact, made it to the screen with Meryl involved in some way. The second is my Reimagined Filmography, where I essentially 'fine tune' Streep's filmography to fit what I would've preferred to have seen her do--with the stipulation that my choices were actually things she was close to doing, but did not (which by the way I'll be revising ever so slightly at some point). And the third is my current undertaking of this recasting project. Heaven help me, there might technically be a fourth layer, but I'm just shy of being comfortable enough to go down the rabbit hole of that particular compulsion. But I'll get there. 

With this third 'layer,' I've figured out that I didn't have to be quite so inclusive with my Reimagined Filmography. I tried to fit so much in when going through the fun--if tedious--process of thinking back on what it may have looked like had a few more things fallen in place surrounding projects that never came to fruition (either at all, or just without Streep's participation). In reality, it's a less believable revision the way I've left it, which is what has made this recasting project the solution! 

With this in place, I'm able to make my list of what I consider a sort of backup career. Put another way, I'm selecting films for this recasting project that I would not have liked to add or replace in her actual filmography (that's left for my reimagined one). For the most part, Meryl already gets the best roles! And when she didn't, I pretty much covered those scenarios with my project from 2014. I'm sure many will have disagreements about which titles were best to keep or discard, but this is all my opinion after all. 

Take 2009 for example. Julie & Julia can't possibly be a film or role I'd consider removing. It was an incredible performance in a well-received film that also did well at the box office. But in order to do that film, Meryl had to basically bow out of Michael Hoffman's adaptation of Jay Parini's biographical novel about Leo Tolstoy (played by Christopher Plummer). I cover some of this background in my original Shoulda Coulda Woulda of the film. 

Streep would've played the role of Tolstoy's wife, Sofya, which ended up going to Helen Mirren. Sofya battle's her husbands loyalists for control of her husband's estate. Tolstoy is an old man and has accumulated a great deal of wealth. His own worldview, however, and to a greater extent that of his followers, deplores material possession. Sofya sees is otherwise, and ends of losing the battle to keep her husband's copyrights out of the public domain.


Not at all dramatic. Streep was originally planned to star in this with Anthony Hopkins in the Christopher Plummer role. I still can't believe how close we came to having those two greats share the screen together in such a tumultuous pairing! It's certainly an interesting character. Sofya butts heads with Tolstoy's editor, Vladimir Cherktov (the great Paul Giamatti), who is the driving force for the creation of this new will that Sofya is railing against. She does her best to ingratiate herself to her husband's new secretary, Valentin Bulgakov, portrayed by James McAvoy. Through her machinations, she might come across as a little money hungry and shallow, but there's a nuanced underpinning to her fight. It's about the well-being and legacy of her family, and she had been a huge contributor to her husband's worldwide popularity. 

As I wrote in my Shoulda Coulda Woulda, I wonder how the accent question would've been handled had Streep and Hopkins been cast. Mirren and McAvoy sound British. Plummer sounds...sort of British? Giamatti has some kind of fancy American accent. Keep in mind, the film takes place in early 20th century Russia. I'm personally not a huge fan of trying to depict a certain language by speaking English with an accent of that language. I could see how if these character had done that, it might make the setting feel a little more Russian. But ultimately, they probably would've all kept their own accents and Meryl done something more resembling how I hear Paul Giamatti's voice in this. 

The film did fairly well with critics (71% on Rotten Tomatoes), and Mirren's performance was acclaimed. She was nominated for both the Golden Globe and Oscar (as was Plummer, but in supporting). Mirren also won the Best Actress Award at the Rome International Film Festival in 2009. All in all, I think the performance fits better into my recasting series than to imagine Meryl having squeezed it in along with her actual body of work around this time (Doubt, Julie & Julia, and It's Complicated).  

Eventually, I see myself doing a major expansion of my Shoulda Coulda Woulda list (and also possibly my Wish List tag), as a sort of stockpile from which to allocate certain alternatives that may have been fun to consider for Streep in any given year. If I would've preferred to see them in her actual filmography (basically best case scenario for a calendar year), it goes into the Reimagined History. If it's more of a "I prefer what Meryl actually did but this would've been fun to see her do too," it goes into Recasting. Glad that's settled. I'm sure everyone was dying to have me more clearly articulate my process in my never-ending analysis of Streep's filmography. Not. 

If you made it to the end of this post, thanks for indulging me. 


  1. Makes sense Jeff, thanks for explaining.

    I knew you'd go for this one and I agree it would have been interesting to see how Meryl would have interpreted this fiery character and seeing her with one of my favourite actors (Anthony Hopkins) would have been a real treat.

    For 2010 I'm going for "The Kids Are All Right" in the Annette Bening role. This small budget movie is very enjoyable whilst saying something fresh about family and commitment.

    1. Anthony Hopkins was not in THe Last Station - it was Christopher Plummer. Are you thinking of Remains of the Day?

    2. Oops-I missed the original casting plan of Streep & Hopkins. Please ignore my post above.

    3. I would dearly have loved Meryl to have been in "The Remains Of The Day" as well!
      I listened to the audiobook again recently and it was so captivating.

  2. All the best manifesto writers explain their methodology, Jeff, so you're way ahead of the game with your rationale! Streep would have been wonderful in this film. Next, we need to find a project for Streep and Mirren to co-star in! Add Close and we have a line up for 'Follies'???

    1. Thanks, Mike! I've thought it would be interesting to see Streep and Mirren portray Helen Keller and Polly Thompson (Keller's longtime companion/interpreter into old age). Thompson was a Scot and Mirren looks a little like her.

      And YES to Follies!