Characters drift like sad ghosts across the screen in this highly conventional, muted adaptation of Ivan Turgenev’s 1872 stage play A Month in the Country. It takes time to grow on you, but for me, there is a demure watchability. Ralph Fiennes has mastered Russian dialogue for the leading role, one of wan and fastidious melancholy – the kind of performance, in fact, with which he used to be identified, before recent comic flourishes in A Bigger Splash and The Grand Budapest Hotel. The drama is soapishly full of the inter-generational romantic intrigue you expect from Turgenev. Fiennes is Mikhail, a gentle, cerebral man who has fallen hopelessly for a married woman: Natalya (Anna Astrakhantseva), who has in turn conceived a secret passion for Alexei (Nikita Volkov) the 20-year-old tutor of her adoptive daughter Vera (Anna Levanova): Alexei and Vera are also clearly in love. The action turns on a tiny, shameful moment: Mikhail is subtly complicit in a plan hatched by a local, busybody doctor to encourage an ageing rich neighbour in his proposal of marriage to Vera. This grotesque intervention might well frighten Alexei away. There is repressed shame, repressed sadness, repressed hope, to which Mikhail finally gives a mournful, confessional voice. The film has a bittersweet, if lugubrious, charm.
Peter Bradshaw is the Guardian's film critic