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Film / Swan Song (1992)

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Swan Song is a 1992 short film (23 minutes) directed by Kenneth Branagh.

Svetlovidov (Sir John Gielgud) is an elderly stage actor. He wanders out on to the abandoned stage one night after the post-performance party, more than a little bit drunk. There he meets Nikita (Richard Briers), the stage prompter, who is secretly living in the theater because he has nowhere else to go. To the sympathetic Nikita, Svetlovidov pours out all his troubles, like how his career has declined from grand starring roles into shitty vaudeville, how the woman he loved dumped him when he wouldn't give up the theater, and how he's now alone, without wife or child, feeling like he's wasted his life. Nikita for his part says Svetlovidov is wrong, insisting that the theater is a noble profession.


Based on an 1887 one act play by Anton Chekhov. Not to be confused with the YA post-apocalyptic novel Swan Song.


  • The Alcoholic: Svetlovidov comes out drunk, talks about how the bottle has been his only comfort in later life, and at the end of the play invites Nikita to his apartment to drink.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: About 20 minutes in an empty theater late one night.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Sir John Gielgud wasn't reduced to crappy vaudeville like his character, but much of what Svetlovidov says applies to Gielgud. Svetlovidov specifically says he's 88 years old, which was Gielgud's age at the time the short was made.
  • Minimalist Cast: Only two characters.
  • Real Time: No discernible time skips.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Attempting to show Nikita what a great actor he once was, Svetlovidov recites passages from King Lear, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Othello.
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  • Speech-Centric Work: An old man rattling along about his less-than-fulfilling life in the theater.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: We glean from Svetlovidov's ranting that he was once an actor of great renown, who has since been reduced to playing in shitty vaudeville shows.