This British-Dutch-Hungarian biographical drama combines incidents from the life of novelist Feodor Dostoyevsky with a dramatization of his short novel The Gambler. The character of Polina in the novel was based by Dostoyevsky on Polina Suslova, his 1862-63 lover. In the tradition of Dennis Potter, this film mixes fiction with reality, opening in 1870 with a woman and child seeking someone in a casino at the German resort of Baden-Baden.
The story then leaps backward to 1866 St. Petersburg, where impoverished student Anna (Jodhi May) accepts a stenographic position with cantankerous 45-year-old Dostoyevsky (Michael Gambon), who lives with his epileptic stepson Pasha (William Houston). Dostoyevsky is writing serialized installments of Crime and Punishment. He has only 27 days to write a minimum of 160 pages on another novel for the publisher Stellovsky (Thom Jansen), who has covered his gambling debts. If Dostoyevsky doesn't meet this deadline, Stellovsky will acquire the rights to all of his current and future books. Anna quits but later comes back so she can pay for her father's funeral. In the process of getting Dostoyevsky's imagination to paper, Anna soon understands that The Gambler is autobiographical -- the tale of a young couple Polina (Polly Walker) and Alexei (Dominic West) at the casino in the fictional German resort Roulettenburg, where Alexei's gambling obsession has put him in debt. As the work on The Gambler continues, an attraction develops between the author and the secretary, and scenes from the work-in-progress are featured.
In real life, Anna Grigoryevna Snitkina did indeed take shorthand on The Gambler, and she went on to become Dostoyevsky's second wife in 1867. Appearing as a gambling grandmother is movie veteran Luise Rainer. Scenes of St. Petersburg, Baden-Baden, and Roulettenburg were all shot in Hungarian locations. ~ Bhob Stewart, Rovi
- Michael Gambon, Jodhi May, (more)