Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0004548, Mon, 8 Nov 1999 08:30:15 -0800

The British film, "Onegin" (fwd)

At the Tokyo International Film Festival held here on Nov. 6, I saw a
preview of the British film "Onegin" based on the Pushkin poem, directed
by Martha Fiennes, the sister of the actor playing Onegin, Ralph Fiennes,
who earned his fame for his acting in "Schindler's List" and "The English
Patient." I had a chance to talk to Martha Fiennes at a reception held

She said that she had used all four volumes of Nabokov's
translation and found his voluminous notes very useful. They
influenced her rendering of many scenes and details. I had
to yield her to other guests, so I didn't get to ask her just
which details.Although I'm not a Russian literature scholar
(merely an American lit Nabokovian), I would be interested
in comments by anyone who saw the film on where Nabokov's
influence can be seen.

She said that the idea of the film came from Ralph Fiennes,
who one day showed her the poem and said, "I wonder
why no one has ever thought of making a film out of such a
beautiful love story." She worked 8 years altogether from
the first stages of scenario-writing, filming, to the final
editing. The whole Fiennes clan seems to have pitched in.
Two cousins, one for music, one for playing the piano,
were mentioned in the credits, but the other famous
brother-actor, Joseph, of "Shakespeare in Love" was perhaps
too busy to help.

The film was very beautifully set, especially the winter
scenes of St. Petersburg and the interiors of some charming
houses (English). The acting of Ralph Fiennes was good enough,
but Liv Tyler (Tatiana) was impressive, though I'm no film critic.
What I was impressed with most of all was the compressed "air" of
the film, tight with feeling. Even a door opening evoked intense

Martha Fiennes seemed not to have heard much about Nabokov's
reputation as translator of Evgenyi Onegin. She made the film
follow the basic plot, but cut the ending very short after Onegin is left
by Tatiana's rejection in utter despair.

The film has already been given a preview in St. Petersburg,
but Martha said that the Russian reaction to the film surprised
her. "I found out why no one had made a film of the story before,"
she said. "Pushkin was their God, not to be touched, especially
by foreigners. Their reaction was, 'How dare you!'"

Shoko Miura