When Russian literary giant Alexander Pushkin first published his
beloved novel "Eugene Onegin," the work was recognized as an impressive,
resounding, tragic love story. At the end of the 20th century,
originality is no longer the tale's strong suit, especially as a
contemporary feature film.
Despite the presence of marquee attractions Ralph Fiennes and Liv Tyler,
the final movie is better suited to Masterpiece Theater. Neither bad nor
exceptionally good, the film spends two hours slowly presenting the
details of a near-loving relationship between the title character
(Fiennes), a Russian aristocrat, and a young girl named Tatiana (Tyler).
One glance at the girl's country estate is all it takes for the couple
to instantly fall for each other. She boldly declares her feelings in a
letter to him, but the older gentleman softly rejects her desires as a
passing, youthful passion.
Six years later, after his fatal dispute with her sister's fiance and
her marriage to another nobleman, they meet again in St. Petersburg.
This time, their roles are reversed, and it is Onegin who urgently tries
to love what he can't possess.
For its first three-fourths, the movie plods along at a meticulous pace
to establish these lovers' initial relationship. While the visuals of
the characters in their period setting are tasteful and refined, the
story and its protagonists remain less than involving.
Fiennes has played this kind of human -- repressed leading man --
before, and he isn't required to stretch much beyond his usual antics.
Tyler, while seemingly a bit miscast, fares a little better as the
decent, idealistic young heroine. Also putting in serviceable
performances are Lena Headey as the older sister and Toby Stephens as
her well-meaning fiance.
Unfortunately, the filmmaking keeps the story cold and distant. Director
Martha Fiennes (Ralph's sister) and screenwriters Michael Ignatieff and
Peter Ettedgui have produced a good-looking but tired affair that fails
to movie beyond its overfamiliar trappings. By the time the hurried last
act arrives, the conclusion, intentional or not, seems indifferent and
The film works best for those who love the novel and want to see any
cinematic version of Pushkin's story. The project was obviously a love
affair for the actor's family. Besides sister Martha, sibling Magnus
Fiennes provides the music score. It's also a boon for Tyler, who shows
that she's more capable than her lackluster performance in last summer's
Overall, "Onegin" stands far beneath Fiennes' previous period piece
accomplishments in "The English Patient" and "Oscar and Lucinda." This
one isn't without artistry or merit. It's simply not artistic enough to
* No rating
Ralph Fiennes: Evgeny Onegin
Liv Tyler: Tatiana Larin
Martin Donovan: Prince Nikitin
Toby Stephens: Vladimir Lensky
Lena Headey: Olga Larin
A Samuel Goldwyn Films presentation. Director Martha Fiennes. Screenplay
Michael Ignatieff and Peter Ettedgui. Novel Alexander Pushkin. Producers
Ileen Maisel and Simon Bosanquet. Director of photography Remi
Adefarasin. Editor Jim Clark. Music Magnus Fiennes. Production designer
Jim Clay. Costume designers Chloe Obolensky and John Bright. Running
time: 1 hour, 46 minutes.