Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Onegin (1999)

An opulent tragic romantic drama with splendid visuals and costumes!   

Onegin is a Fiennes family affair. It was the directorial debut of Martha Fiennes, stars her brother Ralph Fiennes, and is scored by her other brother Magnus Fiennes. The famous epic narrative poem "Evgeny Onegin" by Alexander Pushkin provides the basis for this British-American 19th century period piece. It may be considered a risky exercise for a non-Russian to adapt a famous Russian work; however, Martha Fiennes doesn’t seem to do a bad job in bringing the period to life. The artistic charm and visual splendor is most evident. The tale of a tragic love affair and the casting must have been the key ingredients as to whether this would work satisfactorily. 

Onegin tells the story of Evgeny Onegin (Ralph Fiennes), a well-mannered member of Russian society who squanders his wealth through gambling and careless spending habits. When his uncle becomes gravely ill, Evgeny makes his way to his uncle’s estate, only to arrive too late. Evgeny is the sole heir and inherits the magnificent estate. He is the epitome of fashionable cynicism and jaded sophistication. 

In getting to know his neighbors, Evgeny starts to take more interest in his surroundings. He befriends a young poet Vladimir Lensky (Toby Stephens), but his heart really flutters when he sets eye on the gorgeous Tatyana (Liv Tyler), sister of Vladimir’s fiancĂ©e Loga (Lena Headey). The two begin an unspoken bond. She falls in love with the arrogant Onegin but his cynicism sets his thinking elsewhere. Flirtations and arguments among the group lead to tension and drama. Onegin makes himself scarce and we catch up six years later, back at St Petersburg, when an old friend of his (Martin Donovan) marries the mature Tatyana. Onegin having changed a great deal now finds Tatyana irresistible. It may be too late though. 

Martha Fiennes provides a lucid view of a difficult story, and allows the domination of sparkling glasses and chandeliers to etch their presence. There are luscious scenes and great costumes. Solid acting marks the film’s quality also. Ralph Fiennes’ tight, sour demeanor sends the right signals. Liv Tyler is notably breathtaking when transformed from innocence to bruised adolescence, and then into the final sophisticated woman of principle. 

With impeccable production values, this film is a rare costume drama that looks good and feels strong. Martha Fiennes keeps a brisk pace for the most part and has a clear command on how Onegin journeys while the stellar music from Magnus Fiennes is a plus on its own . So, if you are in mood for a brooding but lush authentic romantic drama set in the early 19th century Russia, this is the flick to see! 


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