SLAVNYKH DEL 1981
Also known as “Yunost Petra,” “Young Peter,” “The Youth of Peter the Great,” and “The Beginning of the Glorious Days.” USSR/German Democratic Republic, 1981. Drama. Color; Russian language; Running time: 140 minutes; Directed by Sergei Gerasimov; Screenplay by Sergei Gerasimov and Yuri Kavtaradze. Starring Dmitri Zolotukhin as Peter the Great.
A retelling of the boyhood and youth of Peter the Great.
TSIGNI PITSISA 1983
USSR, 1983. Television production. Drama. Color; Georgian language; Running time: Unknown; Directed by Amiran Darsavelidze and Giga Lortqipanidze; Screenplay by Anzor Saluqvadze. Starring Nina Yurasova as Catherine the Great.
A historical drama set in the reign of Catherine the Great.
RASPUTIN, ORGIEN AM ZARENHOF 1984
Also known as “Rasputin” and “Rasputin’s Orgy in the Tsar’s Court.” West Germany, 1984. Drama/Adult film. Color; German language; Running time: 91 minutes (theatrical release), 114 minutes (Adult video release); Directed by Ernst Hofbauer; Screenplay by Ernst Hofbauer and C.M. Sherland. Starring Alexander Conte as Rasputin.
A true curiosity, “Rasputin, Orgien am Zarenhof” was shot in two different versions, as was sometimes common in Europe in the 1970s and 1980s. One was a pretentious drama spiced up with soft-core sex scenes, while the other grafted on scenes of hardcore pornography onto the film and jettisoned much of the plot. The film, or at least the pornographic version-opens with an orgy featuring Rasputin in his native Siberia; this is interrupted by the arrival of officials from St. Petersburg, who have come to bring him to St. Petersburg to heal Tsesarevich Alexei. The film abruptly cuts to scenes at the Imperial court, where physicians discuss Alexei’s precarious health, and interpose with Nicholas II to bring in Rasputin in an effort to save his life. A few scenes set in and around a palace depict Rasputin’s arrival and first cure of the Tsesarevich, before the film again slides into a catalogue of sexual escapades. From this point on, it seems, whatever historical scenes were filmed were simply cut to make room for the sexual content: there is an orgy at a restaurant, an orgy at a bathhouse, and an orgy at a palace. While Alexander Conte, the film’s star, may have participated in some version of these scenes, they are cut in such a way that Rasputin’s face is never shown in context of the actual hardcore pornography, leading one to suspect that a body double was used for the most explicit shots. What remains is unimaginative and often trying pornography of the most explicit-and worse, unforgivably boring-kind. The hardcore release seems to have simply abandoned any hint of the Rasputin story after his brief introduction, and never even bothers to get round to his death.
PETER THE GREAT 1986
US/USSR, 1986. NBC Television production. Drama. Color; English language; Running time: 371 minutes; Directed by Lawrence Schiller and Marvin J. Chomsky; Produced by Marvin J. Chomsky; Screenplay by Edward Anhalt, based on the book by Robert K. Massie. Starring Maximilian Schell as Peter, Jan Niklas as young Peter, Vanessa Redgrave as Tsarevna Sophia, Lili Palmer as Tsaritsa Nathalia, Sir Laurence Olivier as King William III, Trevor Howard as Sir Isaac Newton, Hannah Schygulla as Empress Catherine I, Helmut Greim as Alexander Menshikov, Boris Plotnikov as Tsesarevich Alexei, Natalya Andreichenko as Eudoxia, Mel Ferrer as Friedrich the Great, and Roman Filippov as Danilo Menshikov.
The success of Robert K. Massie’s biography “Peter the Great” perhaps made its eventual adaptation inevitable. By the beginning of the 1980s, however, the era of the epic film had largely passed. Hollywood, suffering through the dismal budget over-runs of “Apocalypse Now” and the notorious disaster of “Heaven’s Gate,” was reluctant to risk any large sum of money on a production with uncertain public appeal.
Instead, Massie’s Petrine biography found a welcome home on television. NBC-TV bought the rights to Massie’s biography, and set about filming the epic tale. The production history was troubled: Producer Lawrence Schiller, who also acted as Director, was replaced midway through filming by Marvin Chomsky, and the two men later shared credit for the series.
The producers assembled an all-star, international cast, headed by such luminaries Sir Laurence Olivier, Vanessa Redgrave, Omar Sharif, Hannah Scygulla and Trevor Howard. The role of Peter was shared by two actors: Jan Niklas played Peter from the age of eighteen to his mid-twenties, while Maximilian Schell portrayed the elder sovereign.
Uniquely, “Peter the Great” was the first Western production on the Romanovs to be filmed in the Soviet Union. Actual filming took place in Moscow, in the cities of the Golden Ring, and in St. Petersburg itself. Ostankino, the former Sheremetiev estate outside of Moscow, served as the Stockholm Palace of Charles XII of Sweden; other Moscow locations included the old Yusupov Mansion, formerly the hunting lodge of Ivan the Terrible. The Yusupov’s Moika Palace in St. Petersburg also provided interiors, including the Private Theatre and the Moorish Room, which served as an exotic, middle-eastern setting for Peter and Menshikov during their southern military campaigns.
The mini-series, which spanned four nights in January 1986, told the story of Peter from the revolt of the Streltsy Guard and assumption of the Regency by Sophia to Catherine I’s accession to the Throne on Peter’s death in 1725. Of necessity, many events were telescoped, and historical accuracy was sacrificed to dramatic license. But, on the whole, “Peter the Great” rather successfully dealt with the major events of Peter’s life. It depicted, for example, his great Embassy to Europe, and the influence of the West on his Court. The conflict between Peter and the Orthodox Church, and the struggles with the boyars, were also portrayed rather faithfully. Above all, the series focused on the struggles of Peter with his family, including the plots by his stepsister Sophia; his disastrous first marriage to Eudoxia; and the strained and ultimately fatal relationship between Peter and his son and heir, Tsesarevich Alexei.
“Peter the Great” was filmed by the renowned Vittorio Storaro, who provided suitably atmospheric compositions of wintry Russian landscapes and dimly lit Muscovite interiors. Laurence Rosenthal’s score was an evocative mixture of lyrical Russian melodies contrasted with sweeping, almost Wagnerian themes and music by Carl Orff to help portray the grand drama. The costumes, by Ella Maklakova and Sibyelle Ulsamer, were an authentic mixture of traditional Russian dress and Peter’s newly imported Western styles. In the midst of filming, Maximilian Schell became very ill, and was replaced in certain scenes by Denis de Marne, who, though he closely resembled the actor, could not substitute. Scenes were therefore filmed with Peter turned from the camera, or his face hidden behind pulled up cloak collars and pulled down hats. The effect, even with Schell’s later voice-overs, spoilt the otherwise impeccable values of the production.
“Peter the Great” was nominated for best mini-series or made for TV movie at the 1987 Golden Globe Awards. The performances of Jan Niklas as Peter and Lili Palmer as his mother also received Golden Globe nominations. Vanessa Redgrave was also nominated for a 1986 Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Mini-Series or TV special.
ANASTASIA: THE MYSTERY OF ANASTASIA 1986
US, 1986. Drama. Color; English language; Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky; Screenplay by James Goldman and Marvin Chomsky. Starring Amy Irving as Anna Anderson, Claire Bloom as Empress Alexandra, Omar Sharif as Nicholas II, Olivia de Havilland as Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, Jennifer Dundas as Anastasia, Christian Bale as Tsesarevich Alexei, Rex Harrison as Grand Duke Kirill, Nicolas Surovy as Serge Markov, Jan Niklas as Prince Erich Von Althohendorff, Arnold Diamond as Dr. Markov, Andrea Bretterbauer as Irina Markov, Jane Wenham as Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden, Carol Gillies as Sasha, Tristram Jellinek as Pierre Gilliard, Tim McInnerny as Yakovlev, Angela Pleasance as Clara Peuthert, Edward Fox as Dr. Hauser, Rachel Gurney as Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna, and Susan Lucci as Darya Romanov.
In 1983, Little, Brown published Peter Kurth’s critically acclaimed book “Anastasia: The Riddle of Anna Anderson.” Given the appeal of the subject matter, coupled with the success of previous film adaptations of the Anastasia story, it was perhaps inevitable that Hollywood would once again turn its attention to the mystery of the missing Grand Duchess.
Telecom Entertainment purchased the pre-publication film rights to the book. Already in the midst of planning their own Anastasia movie, they wanted to prevent a rival production based on Kurth’s book. “I was of course naive,” Kurth says. “I didn’t know Hollywood then as I do now. All they want is a book between covers that they can wave around at meetings as ‘the property.’ They don’t actually read it. I was horrified when I read the shooting script.”(1) NBC-Television bought the broadcast rights from Telecom, and hired Kurth to serve as a consultant for the resulting mini-series. “At the time,” he recalls, “I was naive enough to think that the network would actually consult me when they got around to filming.”(2)To write the screenplay, NBC hired Marvin Chomsky and James Goldman. Chomsky, who had already won Emmys for “Attica,” “Inside the Third Reich,” and “Holocaust,” also took the helm as director. Goldman, who had won the Academy Award for best screenplay for his adaptation of “The Lion in Winter,” had also been responsible for “Nicholas and Alexandra” in 1971.These developments seemed promising. Soon, however, there were other concerns. “I might have guessed I was in trouble,” says Kurth, “when the producers called me up to ask if Anastasia had ever had ‘boyfriends.’ They wanted to know who they were. They wanted to know how many there were. They wanted me to agree with them when they said that if she hadn’t had any they’d have to ‘make one up.’”(3)Chomsky and Goldman were under orders from NBC President Brandon Tartikoff to churn out a piece of romantic melodrama. “I want more romance,” Tartikoff declared after skimming through a draft of the script. “When I think Anastasia, I think romance.”(4) Kurth, meanwhile, could only watch helplessly as fictional incident after fictional incident was piled on to the storyline, in an attempt to satisfy Tartikoff’s romantic aspirations.
Further problems lay ahead. “I had written a serious book about one of the great mysteries of the century,” Kurth declares. “Anastasia was a Russian Grand Duchess, and I’d imagined that for the film version of her story an actress would be found whom we might, at least, suppose was Russian. I certainly wasn’t prepared for it when the network announced it had given the part to Lindsay Wagner.”(5)Wagner, a statuesque blonde, was best known for her role as the “Bionic Woman,” a series spun-off from the successful ABC Television series “The Six Million Dollar Man.” Desperate, Kurth rang his agent, and tried to convey his frustration to the producers. Eventually, they relented, and cast a German actress in the role of Anna Anderson.(6) This, too, proved a mistake, and finally Amy Irving won the coveted role.
“The role of Anna Anderson was so appealing,” Irving explained, "the transition she makes, the depths of emotion she experiences...all of that was so tempting, I couldn’t resist.”(7) Irving also brought something unique to the portrayal: conviction. “What was amazing for me was to see photographs of Anna Anderson and of the Tsar’s daughters,” she said. “Putting them together, it’s just so obvious....I do admire Anna Anderson. She was a real quirky character, but if you went through seeing your family murdered and survived, you’d be quirky, too.”(8) At the end of the production, Irving’s then husband, Stephen Spielberg, presented her with a small Faberge egg adorned with an “A” on a gold chain that had belonged to the real Anastasia, and which the actress proudly wore to several interviews promoting the motion picture.
Other cast members had their own beliefs and doubts. “I talked at one point to a man whose grandfather, the former King of Denmark, was present when Anna Anderson was tested,” said Omar Sharif, who portrayed Nicholas II. “When the grandfather came out, he said, ‘Things that this girl knows no one else could possibly know.’ So if she was a charlatan, she was a brilliant charlatan.” And Susan Lucci, who played the fictional character of Princess Darya, loosely modeled on Princess Xenia of Russia, declared, “I really believe she was Anastasia.”(9)Claire Bloom, who portrayed Empress Alexandra, felt differently. “I’m a realist,” she said. “After all, the family was shot and bayoneted and chopped up, and God knows what indescribable things. And I can’t believe the Bolsheviks wouldn't have said: ‘Where’s the fourth girl?’ On the other hand, extraordinary things have happened. I mean, she did know things....But it’s the story that attracts people, it’s a marvelous, romantic story-Cinderella without a ball.”(10)
“Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna” walked a delicate and often confusing line between fact and fiction. The producers were careful to distinguish their work from the famous 1956 Ingrid Bergman film. “The only similarity between the two movies is that they both involve a character named Anastasia, who claims to be the daughter of the Tsar,” said co-Producer Michael Lepiner. “The movie that was done with Bergman is a grand romantic fictionalization, while this story is based much more on the life of Anna Anderson, with historical documentation.”(11)Despite such claims, however, the resulting NBC miniseries was a far cry from the true story of Anna Anderson. The character of Prince Erich Von Althohendorff, played by Jan Niklas (who starred that same year as Peter the Great in the NBC adaptation of Robert Massie’s best-selling biography), was loosely based on the real-life Prince Friedrich of Saxe-Altenburg, who had been one of Anna Anderson’s most ardent champions. In the NBC miniseries, however, he also became her lover, a relationship that, in real life, had never existed.
While some characters, like those of Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, Grand Duke Kirill and his wife Victoria Feodorovna, Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden, and Pierre Gilliard, clearly echoed their real-life counterparts, the script had confusingly changed many other names. Dr. Eugene Botkin became Dr. Martov, his son Gleb was re-named Serge Markov, and Alexandra Tegleva, the former nursemaid known as Shura who had eventually married Pierre Gilliard, was here called Sasha.
The production was filmed in Vienna and Hungary. The music, by Laurence Rosenthal (who had also worked on “Peter the Great” for NBC that same year) and costumes by Jane Robinson were first rate, and the over-all look was a lush evocation of the 1920s. But the script itself, weighted down with fictional insertions and romantic requirements, did little to set the record straight.
“When I saw the full screening,” remembers Kurth, “I saw that it had a kind of romantic appeal. I actually enjoyed watching it although it had nothing to do with her or the book I’d written. So long as I looked at it as a foreign object I was fine.”(12)
ZHIZN KLIMA SAMGINA 1986
Also known as “The Life of Klim Samgin.” USSR, 1896. Television production. Drama. Color; Russian language; Running time: 100 minutes; Directed by Viktor Titov; Screenplay by Aleksandr Lapshin, based on a novel by Maxim Gorky. Starring Aleksandr Galibin as Nicholas II.
A historical drama in which Nicholas II makes an appearance.
USSR, 1986. Drama. Color; Russian language; Running time: 100 minutes; Directed by Nikolai Burlyayev; Screenplay by Nikolai Burlyayev. Starring Nikolai Burlyayev as Michael Lermontov, Maris Liepa as Nicholas I, Uldis Lieldidz as Benckendorff, Algimantas Masiulis as Kleinmichel, and A. Matsukevich as Nesselrode.
A cinematic biography of the ill-fated Lermontov.
RAZMAKH KRYLEV 1986
USSR, 1986. Drama. Color; Russian language; Running time: 94 minutes; Directed by Gennadi Glagolev; Screenplay by Boris Rakhmanin, based on a book by Y. Yarovoy. Starring Gennadi Glagolev as Nicholas II.
Unfortunately nothing is known of this production.
USSR/France, 1988. Drama. Color; Russian and French language; Running time: 153 minutes; Directed by Sergei Solovyov; Screenplay by Sergei Livnev and Sergei Solovyov; Starring Anatoli Slivnikov as Ambal, German Shorr as Chir, Ilya Ivanov as Shar, Kirill Kozakov as Platon Zubov, Aleksandr Domogarov as Alexander I, and Dmitri Dolinin as Paul I.
A love story set against a violent police drama in the Crimea. During a flashback sequence to the 18th Century, Paul I and Alexander I both appear.
1. Peter Kurth to author.
7. Andrew Lee, “This Week: Anastasia,” In TV Guide, December 6, 1986, 17.
8. Ibid., 16-17.
9. Ibid., 14.
11. Ibid., 13.
12. Peter Kurth to author.
“The Romanovs in Film” is copyright 1999-2000, 2006 by Greg King. ISSN 1525-111X. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be produced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including copying, or by any information storage system and retrieval system, or computer system, without permission in writing from the copyright holder.