10 September 1998 | Spiral-2
A truly great period drama, beautifully shot, acted and directed.
[Note: the following comments were written after a preview screening for the film 'Onegin', Tuesday 8th October 1998 in Wimbledon, London. The film was still a 'work in progress', with some cleaning up to be done on the sound track and most of the scene transitions somewhat shoddy. The film's title was not 'Eugene Onegin', but simply 'Onegin'.]
The idea of an adaptation of a 19th century Russian novel about unrequited love will clearly not appeal to everyone, especially given the considerable number of period dramas that have come before it. However, 'Onegin' distinguishes itself both by its sparkling script, its stunning locations and by the outstanding efforts of both director and cast.
As an extremely critical film viewer, no-one was more surprised than I that when facing an audience response sheet for the film I could not think of a single scene I did not enjoy whilst running out of space to list all the scenes that I loved!
The cast, headed by Ralph Fiennes (Onegin) and Liv Tyler (Tatiana), acquit themselves admirably and I will be very disappointed if one or both do not receive Oscar nominations for their performances. Toby Stephens (Lensky), in one of the key supporting roles, is equally superb, especially when being played off as the emotional loose cannon to Fiennes' laconic and cynical Onegin.
The locations - especially the millpond at which some of the film's key scenes take place - are stunningly shot, and the camerawork in general is a cut above most films. The directors decision to let sound and vision take upon some of the personality of the central characters at key moments only serves to underline the emotional content of the film.
As an example, when Tatiana writes her letter to Onegin, the camera views what she writes only in close up - single words, giving the viewer a sense of the obsession and passion that is working in her. As she writes, her hands become more and more stained with ink and eventually we see her trying to wipe the ink from her hands as if she is stained with guilt.
As I intimated before, this is not a film for all people. There is little action, and most of the story rests upon the simple interaction between Onegin, Tatiana and Lensky. But it builds with grim inevitability to an emotional climax which left me strangely delighted that there are still film makers out there who can produce truly great movies.
The film it most reminded me of was 'Remains of the Day', but whilst I found that to be labored and frustrating (I almost wished that the central characters were in the room so I could slap them for being so foolish), the characters and situations in 'Onegin' are tragically believable. I found myself sympathizing with all three of the central characters, for entirely different reasons.
I cannot recommend this film highly enough to anyone who has ever enjoyed a period drama, a nineteenth century novel or suffered through unrequited love. Martha Fiennes is a director worth keeping an eye on.