It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Onegin is a man bemused by his own worthlessness. He has been carefully prepared by his aristocratic 19th century upbringing to be unnecessary--an outside man, hanging on, looking into the lives of others. Even when he's given the opportunity to play a role after he inherits his uncle's estate, his response is to rent the land to his serfs. In another man, this would be seen as liberalism. In Evgeny Onegin, it is more like indifference.
"Onegin" is a leisurely, elegant, detached retelling of Alexander Pushkin's epic verse novel, with Ralph Fiennes as the hero. It is the kind of role once automatically assigned to Jeremy Irons. Both men look as if they have stayed up too late and not eaten their greens, but Irons in the grip of passion is able to seem lost and heedless, while Fiennes suggests it is heavy lifting, with few rewards. "I am not one who is made for love and marriage," his Onegin says soulfully.
As the film opens, Onegin is returning to inherit his uncle's estate outside St. Petersburg after having lost his own fortune at the gambling tables. He is welcomed by receptions, teas and balls, and embraced by his neighbor Lensky (Toby Stephens). Lensky has a young bride named Olga (Lena Headey), and she has an older sister named Tatyana (Liv Tyler), who is a lone spirit and visits Onegin's estate to borrow books from his library.
Tyler has the assignment of suggesting passionate depths beneath a cool exterior and succeeds: She is grave and silent, with an ethereal quality that is belied by her bold use of eye contact. Onegin probably falls in love with her the first time he sees her, but is not, of course, made for love and shrugs off his real feelings in order to enter into a flirtation with Olga, who is safely married.