Also known as “The Tsar’s Hunt.” USSR, 1990. Drama. Color; Russian language; Running time: 97 minutes; Directed by Vitali Melnikov; Screenplay by Leonid Zorin. Starring Svetlana Kyuchkova as Catherine the Great, Nikolai Yeryomenko as Alexei Orlov, and Alexander Goloborodko as Gregory Orlov.
A fictional drama set in the reign of Catherine the Great.
VIVAT GARGEMARINY 1991
Also known as “Vivat, Naval Cadets.” USSR, 1991. Drama. Color; Russian language; Running time: 140 minutes; Directed by Svetlana Druzhinina; Screenplay by Svetlana Druzhinina and Yuri Nagibin. Starring Kristina Orbakaite as Princess Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst, and Natalya Gundareva as Empress Elizabeth.
A fictional account of Catherine the Great’s youthful arrival and first days in Russia.
Also known as “The Crazies.” USSR, 1991. Comedy. Color; Russian language; Running time: Unknown; Directed by Alla Surikova; Screenplay by Alla Surikova; Starring Nikolai Karachentsov as Rodion, Leonid Yarmolnik as Tikhon Zajtsev, Mikhail Boyarsky as Nicholas I, Aleksei Zharkov as Benckendorff, and Semyon Farada as the Russian secret agent.
A comedy set in the reign of Nicholas I.
TSAR IVAN GROZNYI 1991
Also known as “Tsar Ivan the Terrible.” USSR, 1991. Color; Drama; Russian language; Running time: 133 minutes; Directed by Gennadi Vasilyev; Screenplay by Gennadi Vasilyev and Valentin Ezhov, based on a novel by Alexei Tolstoy. Starring Kakhi Kavsadze as Ivan the Terrible.
Another retelling of the life of Ivan the Terrible, this dispenses with much of the symbolism employed by earlier directors such as Eisenstein to convey the story in a rather conventional narrative. This Ivan, as played by Kakhi Kavsadze, is a man shaped and haunted by his brutal childhood; at night, he suffers from terrible dreams recalling the torments of his youth. The director seems intent on rehabilitating Ivan, and thus, there is little portrayed here of the brutality of his reign. One gets only a few glimpses of some tortures being enacted, as men are impaled or boiled alive, yet this is contrasted with the visage of Ivan, clad in his monastic robes, deep in prayer and seeking forgiveness. It isn’t quite accurate history, though it is told in a compelling manner.
YOUNG CATHERINE 1991US/USSR, 1991.
Drama. Color; Directed by Michael Anderson; Screenplay by Christopher Bryant. Starring Vanessa Redgrave as Empress Elizabeth, Christopher Plummer as Sir Charles Hanbury-Williams, Franco Nero as Count Vorontzov, Marthe Keller as Princess Johanna, Maximilian Schell as Friedrich the Great, Julia Ormond as Catherine, Mark Frankel as Gregory Orlov, Anna Kanakis as Countess Vorontzov, Reece Dinsdale as Grand Duke Peter, and Katharine Schlesinger as Countess Elizabeth Vorontzov.
“Young Catherine” was a by-product of entertainment mogul Ted Turner’s passionate interest in Russia. The man who created the Goodwill Games as a politically free alternative to the Olympics was also responsible for forging close ties with the Soviet Government. In 1990, as Seattle played host to the second outing of Turner’s Games, he had arranged for his Turner Entertainment Networks to fund a lavish, four-hour mini-series based on the life of Catherine the Great, from the time of her arrival in Russia to her assumption of the Throne. Like NBC-TV’s production of Robert K. Massie’s “Peter the Great” five years earlier, Young Catherine was filmed in the Soviet Union. The mini-series was a rather straight forward, if sometimes fictionalized account, of Catherine’s early years in Russia. The film sometimes plays a bit fast and loose with historical fact, particularly in condensing Catherine’s seventeen-years of marriage into a much shorter (cinematic) period of time. There are also liberties taken with the personalities involved, and the fictitious romantic storyline involving Catherine and Orlov (which did not develop until some years after her arrival in Russia) tends to move the film dangerously close to soap opera masquerading as fact.
But the film benefited immensely from the uniformly strong performances of its cast. Of particular note were the beautiful Julia Ormond, whose Catherine was at once captivatingly naive and cunningly clever, and Reece Dinsdale, portraying Grand Duke Peter as less a madman than as a pathetic figure of pity-a nice change from the usual cinematic portrayals of him as a sneering, twitchy idiot. Christopher Plummer’s Sir Charles Hanbury-Williams, who becomes Catherine’s close advisor and confidant, is also strong, and delivers some of the film’s most memorable speeches. But the film really belongs to Vanessa Redgrave’s Empress Elizabeth, a role for which she was later nominated for a 1991 Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Mini-Series or Television Special. Redgrave managed to capture both Elizabeth’s autocratic temper and her humanity, making it the definitive portrayal of the Empress to date.
The film took full advantage of its Russian locations. Opening sequences utilized St. Petersburg’s Menshikov Palace as the palace in Anhalt-Zerbst; Peterhof for the exterior of the palace of Friedrich the Great at Potsdam; and the Yusupov Palace on the Moika Canal as Potsdam’s interiors. The Yusupov Palace also provided interiors for the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, along with actual filming done to great effect at the latter’s exterior and in the enfilade of state apartments and Rastrelli’s Great Hall. The Palace of Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich was also used for certain interior sequences.
In spite of its factual liberties, the film succeeds admirably in recreating both the drama of Catherine’s early years in Russia, as well as the splendor of the Russian Court. This was, incidentally, the second Romanov collaboration between Vanessa Redgrave and Maximilian Schell, who had both starred in “Peter the Great” five years earlier.
Also known as “Assassin of the Tsar.” USSR. 1991. Drama. Color; Russian language/English language dubbed version; Running time: 104 minutes; Directed by Karen Shakhnazgov; Screenplay by Alexander Borodyanskii and Karen Shakhnazgov. Starring Malcolm McDowell as Timofeyev/Yurovsky, Oleg Yankovsky as Dr. Smirnov/Nicholas II, Olga Antonova as Empress Alexandra, Dariya Mayorova as Grand Duchess Olga, Yevgeniya Kryukova as Grand Duchess Tatiana, Alyona Teremezova as Grand Duchess Marie, Olga Borisova as Grand Duchess Anastasia, Alexei Logunov as Tsesarevich Alexei, Vyacheslav Vdovin as Dr. Botkin, Viktor Seferov as Voikov, and Vyacheslav Mukhov as Paul Medvedev.
This recent version of the life and death of Nicholas II is part historical drama, part time-travel adventure. A patient in a modern day mental hospital believes himself to be Yurovsky, assassin of Nicholas II. During hypnosis and counseling sessions, he and his doctor slip from present day into their “past lives,” and are forced to relive the events of 1918 in Ekaterinburg in an effort to rescue their present-day lives.
The film opens in a steamy desert, following a snake as it trails along the parched earth. A narrator relays the Biblical story of King Nebuchadnezzar, and the murder of King Belshazzar by his slaves, before the scene shifts to 1881 where, in a monochrome flashback, we follow Alexander II as he rides along St. Petersburg’s Catherine Canal and is assassinated. The narrator is now Timofeyev, who declares that he was also Grinevitsky, Alexander II’s assassin. As this scene fades back to the present day, we see Timofeyev as he recounts this story. He is a patient in a mental institution outside of Moscow, reviewing his case history with a new psychiatrist, Dr. Smirnov. Timofeyev is suffering from the delusion that not only is he Alexander II’s assassin, but also Yakov Yurovsky, who presided over the executions of the Romanovs in 1918. Timofeyev not only perplexes Smirnov with his recall of these events, but he also suffers from stomach ulcers-as did Yurovsky.
Smirnov attempts to better understand Timofeyev’s delusions, but in so doing, he himself sinks into a world of fantasy in which he becomes Nicholas II. Like Timofeyev, he begins to manifest symptoms and signs tied to the real Emperor, in this case, painful headaches and a wound on his skull that matches that left on Nicholas after the attack on his life in Japan. The lines between fantasy and reality, between delusion and belief, begin to merge as the stories of the two men, patient and doctor, Emperor and Assassin, mingle and eventually merge, leading them inexorably back to the summer of 1918 and the murder of the Imperial Family, which unfolds as experienced by Timofeyev/Yurovsky and Smirnov/Nicholas. It ends with a helpless Smirnov, installed in a seedy hotel room in Ekaterinburg, imagining the events of the night of July 16-17; as he relives them, he, too, succumbs to fate-in this case, an apparent heart attack-while an energized Timofeyev emerges from the ordeal intact.
This outline can but contain the bare bones of the total story, and the film’s narrative sweeps quite effectively in and out of time, from contemporary Moscow to the Grand Palace at Peterhof in Nicholas II’s reign, to the grim mental institution to the war-ravaged Ekaterinburg of 1918, from the lives of Yurovsky and the Emperor to the parallel existence of Timofeyev and Smirnov. Such a cinematic ploy can be dangerous, and when done carelessly can leave viewers confused and irritated. Thankfully, Shakhnazgov has a sure hand, and his film moves easily and compellingly between these two conflicting times, with their overlapping actors and characters. In the end, it becomes less a meditation on the state of delusion and the modern story than a careful evocation of the last days of the Romanovs in 1918, and while the movie as a whole works quite successfully, it is in these flashback sequences that it manages to transcend its ideas and provide one of the best portraits of the imprisonment and murder of the Imperial Family.
The psychological portrait drawn of both Nicholas II and his wife, as well as that of Yurovsky, rings quite true, and provides the film with a moral center that makes the viewer identify equally with the Romanovs and the man who assassinated them. The flashback sequences before the Revolution depict a young Nicholas rushing up the Jordan Staircase at the Winter Palace to Alexander II’s Study, where his grandfather lays dying after being attacked in 1881. The scene is well shot, but of more value is the voice-over narration, in which Smirnov/Nicholas II describes the emotional impact of the event-how from this day he knew that he, too, would suffer a terrible death. It manages to convey quite effectively both the privileged lives of the Romanovs as well as the constant uncertainty that surrounded them. Other vignettes place Nicholas presiding over a family meal in the Grand Palace at Peterhof, shot on location, and include some stark narrative in which Nicholas describes his life as a kind of sacrifice to Russia, noting that the revolutionaries needed him to inspire their hatred. One is left with a tantalizing glimpse of Nicholas II as a kind of cipher, upon which all others projected their own views and ideas.
As Empress Alexandra, Olga Antonova manages to convey the correct amount of haughty demeanor with just a sense of vulnerability. Hers is a woman who clearly resents the situation in which she finds herself, yet one sees, through her grimaces and sometimes cruel asides to Nicholas, just how she herself contributed to their presence in the Ipatiev House. Perhaps the most affecting scene is one in which Alexandra wakes up and asks her husband what day it is; he is uncertain, and she dissolves in tears in a near hysterical outburst as Nicholas patiently and with resignation attempts to once again comfort her, repeating over and over again in a tired way, “Alix…Alix…Alix.” This, of course, isn’t true to history, for the real Empress kept a diary until the last day of her life, but it does provide a real sense of the uncertainty that the Romanovs must have felt in their imprisonment, where every aspect of their daily lives lay in the hands of others.
The scenes set in 1918 Ekaterinburg are very effectively done and realized, with the sets for the Ipatiev House interiors rather faithfully created. Here, unlike so many other cinematic depictions, the Imperial Family’s final prison is brought to life as the elegant mansion it truly was, with luxurious furnishing, expensive wallpaper, and shimmering parquet floors, rather than a bare collection of dirty rooms; only 1992’s “Last Days of the Last Tsar” so faithfully duplicates this interior setting. The only minor quibble is that the mansion that stands in for the Ipatiev House exterior is somewhat smaller than the actual building, though the filmmakers managed to wrap this exterior in carefully copied details that convincingly replicate the actual house to an uncanny degree. Facts and incidents are faithfully duplicated as well in these scenes: the French door from the dining room to the balcony is hung with a carpet; Leonid Sednev is removed from the Ipatiev House during the family’s last dinner; and Yurovsky delivers a basket of eggs brought by the nuns of a local monastery.
One aspect of the film deserves mention, and that is the depiction of the Imperial Family’s imprisonment in Ekaterinburg. “Tsareubiytsa” dramatizes these months, but unlike nearly every other film, does not resort to the usual clichéd images of brutal, drunken guards mistreating the prisoners; indeed, the Grand Duchesses are even shown chatting happily with several of the soldiers, as happened in real life. The portrayal of Yurovsky, too, is far more realistic here than in any other film. Malcolm McDowell’s Yurovsky is clearly a determined revolutionary and a man who did what he considered to be his duty, but he emerges as vaguely conflicted at his onerous burden, impatient at the expectations imposed upon him, and keen to get the whole thing over so that he can move on with his life. Special mention must be made of Oleg Yankovsky’s portrayal of Nicholas II. Although the scenes in which he plays the Emperor amount to roughly thirty minutes, it is one of the best and most convincing portrayals ever put to the screen. Yankovsky looks the part perfectly, and his manner, speech (in the Russian language version), and reactions remain completely believable. Like Yurovsky, this Nicholas appears conflicted by events and expectations, and if there is nothing of the situation and stubbornness that brought him to this point, the film still manages, through his narration, to convey a man at once controlling and controlled, resigned to his fate in a way that ultimately led to disaster.
The murder of the Imperial Family is dealt with effectively and quite accurately, although this film, like every other cinematic depiction, rushes through the actual slaughter as if the entire execution took a mere thirty seconds to accomplish. It also follows Yurovsky out of town to the Koptyaki Forest where, against a beautifully shot early morning sky rimmed with smoke, he disposes of the corpses, providing a resonant contrast with the barbarity of the actual deed itself.
There is also a bit of an allegorical storyline that runs through the scenes set in 1918 Ekaterinburg concerning a young, missing girl, Alexandra Garavna. Her mother hovers outside the Ipatiev House, continually asking Yurovsky where she has gone; Nicholas II reads the story to his family from a newspaper over dinner; Yurovsky asks Paul Medvedev several times if knows anything about where the girl has gone; and, in the end, Yurovsky says simply, “I didn’t kill her.” While the film does not propose any possible survivors amongst the Romanovs, the director apparently inserted this parallel story as a subtle nod to the popular idea that Anastasia may have escaped. When the movie was filmed, in 1990, the mass grave in the Koptyaki Forest had not yet been exhumed, but by 1992, when the film was first released on video, the Russian cover carefully depicted an Imperial Family with only three daughters-again, an oblique reference to the, by then, determination that one of the Grand Duchesses was missing from the grave.
“Tsareubiytsa” is an unusual film, but a very rich and rewarding one. It is, by nature of its dual stories, somewhat complex and circular, but this contrivance never interferes with the narrative and, indeed, heightens the drama. It is certainly one of the best and most thoughtful depictions of the last days of the Romanovs ever put on film.
THE LAST DAYS OF THE LAST TSAR 1992
Russia, 1992. Drama; Color and black and white; Running time: 104 minutes; Directed by Anatoli Ivanov. Starring Gennady Glagolev as Nicholas II, Elenora Kazanskaya as Alexandra, Alexei Dovnykh and Miroslav Romancik as Tsarevich Alexei, Natalia Boldireva as Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaievna, Olga Tartakovskaya as Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaievna, Julia Augn as Grand Duchess Marie Nikolaievna, Alexandra Aminova as Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaievna, Vladimir Knyazev as Yurovsky, Gennady Voropaev as Dr. Botkin, Galina Chiginskaya as Anna Demidova, Sergei Poledgaev as Alexei Trupp, and Victor Semenovsky as Ivan Kharitonov.
This, one of the most curious films about the life and reign of Nicholas II, is also one of the most affecting. It is an impressionistic collage of black and white newsreel footage and contemporary photographs, blended with new black and white and color footage featuring actors as the Imperial Family and members of their Household. The script consists entirely of voice-over narration consisting of both a running historical commentary as well as extracts from the letters and diaries of the Imperial Family themselves. None of the actors portraying the Imperial Family speak any audible lines.
The film opens with a mixture of black and white and color footage shot in the Koptyaki Forest outside of Ekaterinburg. Photographs of the Imperial Family are mingled with the newly shot black and white footage depicting the truck bearing their bodies following their assassination. Yurovsky is seen supervising the disposal of the bodies, as they are thrown from the truck bed into a waiting pit, then hastily covered with earth and railroad ties. This is accompanied by a choral score, heavily reliant on the Russian Orthodox liturgy, as well as somber narration that encompasses Biblical passages and extracts from the Romanovs’ letters.
The film is quite effective in its blend of old archival footage with new scenes featuring actors and actresses who resemble to an extraordinarily degree the real Romanovs. Certain sequences were shot at the Ipatiev Monastery at Kostroma; at the Gothic Cottage at Alexandria, Peterhof; at the train station at Mogilev where Nicholas abdicated; at the Cathedral of the Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul; at the Yusupov Palace on the Moika Canal in St. Petersburg; at Gatchina Palace; at the Governor’s House in Tobolsk; at the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo; at the Feodorovsky Gorodok and Cathedral; and at and inside the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. These actual locations lend an eerie quality to the film, further mingling the tenuous lines between documentary and biographical picture.
For the scenes in the Alexander Palace, two of the rooms in the Private Apartments were restored to their Imperial appearance: Nicholas’s Private Study, and his Formal Study. The former had been kept largely intact after the Revolution, but the Formal Study was faithfully restored according to old photographs, down to the Tiffany-style chandeliers, Chippendale chairs and portrait of Alexander III hanging on the wall.
Perhaps the most amazing recreation of the entire film is that of the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg, where the Imperial Family was murdered. A perfect copy of the real structure, which was razed in 1977, was built inside and out, and furnished according to details taken from the photographs of the two White Army investigators Sergeyev and Sokolov. Along with the interior sets designed for 1991’s “Tsareubiytsa,” they are likely the closest thing ever captured on film to the actual Ipatiev House, and alone recommend the movie.
The film chronicles the last years of Nicholas II’s reign, and offers vignettes featuring Rasputin, Anna Vyrubova, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, and the assassinations of Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna and the Grand Dukes at Alapayevsk as well as the four Grand Dukes in the Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul. The execution scene of the Imperial Family in the basement of the Ipatiev House is filmed in particularly realistic and grisly detail though it, as is every other cinematic version, is all over within thirty seconds, with no hint of the factual difficulties involved in dispatching the victims.
As a film, it is nearly impossible to categorize. “Last Days of the Last Tsar” is more an experience, a series of emotions linked to a succession of startling images and scenes, and all imbued with a truly haunting musical and choral score. Because it mingles documentary with modern re-enactments and moves back and forth between them, it manages to evoke a very distinctive mood. It is perhaps the most difficult of all the films about Nicholas II to enjoy, precisely because it is so different, but that very distinction also marks it out as more of an experience than most other motion pictures.
These, then, are the film’s aesthetic good points, and together they largely form its continued attraction. On the reverse, the film must be understood exactly for what it is: religious, staunchly monarchist propaganda. This fact in and of itself does not necessarily deter from the value, but it does undermine its ultimate credibility as purported factual history/documentary.
“Last Days of the Last Tsar” was apparently partially financed by both émigré organizations and by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, and the film literally drips with the sentiments one might expect to accompany such ties. In its documentary aspect, there is not a hint of Nicholas II’s culpability in bringing an end to the Russian Empire, nor any sense of the accumulated errors of his reign; indeed, the narration is overtly sympathetic, asking the viewer directly, “What had gone wrong? Had the Emperor erred? If so, where had he erred?” This is the closest that the film comes to posing the question, yet it does not explore it any further. The Nicholas presented here is a kind, gentle, loving family man, deeply religious and consumed by his love for Russia; this is certainly one part of the picture, but in failing to depict that which also coexisted alongside such images, the film utterly fails in its attempt to be taken as serious documentary. This Nicholas is a victim of circumstance, of the revolutionaries, of a hostile, un-Orthodox world beyond the boundaries of Holy Russia. His Empire is a thriving one; people are happy, the economy is growing, and all bodes well for the future; a viewer will look in vain for any mention of widespread poverty, famine, anti-Semitism, corruption, incompetence, or even the Emperor’s own fatal resignation in the face of a growing tide of discontent.
In keeping with this theme, the film strives to portray the Romanovs as martyrs; gauzy images of the contemporary actors are washed with light and fade into icons of the Imperial Family as choral music surrounds them. Everything within is designed to this end: in the depiction of their time at the Ipatiev House, we thus see guards throwing things at the Imperial Family, spitting at them, mocking them, while Nicholas stands resolutely before his tormentors, blessing them with the sign of the Cross. In its efforts to heighten the aura of martyrdom, the film thus resorts to imagined scenes of humiliation that weaken the factual claims it attempts to establish.
“Last Days of the Last Tsar” thus remains something of a mixed bag cinematically: beautiful to watch and to listen to, difficult to enjoy, naïve in the extreme in its presentation of Nicholas II and his Russia, and filled not just with carefully recreated sets and scenes of real power, but also with fictionalized propaganda masquerading as truth. No film in the Romanov cinematic canon can lay claim to complete historical accuracy, and few try; but this film did, through its ingenious and emotional structure, and because it did and failed, the overall effect is that of a very worthwhile piece of film whose parts, in the end, fall victim to its oppressive apology and blatantly devotional efforts.
PIEKNA NIEZNAJOMA 1992
Also known as “Beautiful Stranger.” Russia/Poland, 1992. Drama. Color; Polish language; Running time: 90 minutes; Directed by Jerzy Hoffman; Screenplay by Jerzy Hoffman, based on a novel by Alexei Tolstoy. Starring Grazyna Szapolowska as The Stranger, Edward Zentara as The Spy, and Ivan Krasko as Rasputin.
A tale set during the First World War in Petrograd, which has foreign spies mixing with Rasputin in an attempt to obtain power and a separate peace.
NORTHERN EXPOSURE 1994
Episode title: “Zarya.” US, 1994. CBS Television production; Original air date: October 31, 1994; Comedy-drama; color; English language; Running time: 50 minutes; Directed by Jim Charleston; Screenplay by Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider. Guest starring: Ian Abercrombie as Anastasia’s Aide, Tushka Bergen as Anastasia, Michael Des Barres as Felix Dzerzhinsky, Christopher Neame as Lenin; Regular Cast: Rob Morrow as Dr. Joel Fleischman, Janine Turner as Maggie O’Connell, Barry Corbin as Maurice Minnifield, John Corbett as Chris Stevens, Darren Burrows as Ed Chigliak, John Cullum as Holling Vincoeur, and Cynthia Geary as Shelly Tambo.
This episode of the quirky CBS Television hit series “Northern Exposure” posits a story certainly in keeping with the lightly comic storylines that it generally showcased. The residents of remote Cicely, Alaska, recall an episode in their town’s history when, in the early 1920s (in monochromatic scenes shot using the regular cast in addition to guest stars), Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaievna, miraculously rescued from the murders in the Ipatiev House, arranges to meet with representatives of the new Soviet Government to effect a reconciliation of sorts. Lenin’s government is struggling and needs a sense of legitimacy, and Anastasia-suitably dressed as a kind of regal flapper-enters into talks with both him and Felix Dzerzhinsky about returning to Russia as a ceremonial figurehead in exchange for a small fortune.
KATHERINA DER GROSSE 1995
Also known as “Catherine the Great.” Germany, 1995. Drama. Color; Running time: 180 minutes (US Television and Video/DVD versions run 98 minutes); Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky and John Goldsmith; Screenplay by John Goldsmith and Frank Tudisco. Starring Catherine Zeta-Jones as Catherine, Paul McGann as Potemkin, Ian Richardson as Count Vorontzov, Brian Blessed as Bestuztev, John Rhys-Davies as Pugachev, Hannes Jaenicke as Grand Duke Peter, Mark McGann as Gregory Orlov, Stephen McGann as Alexei Orlov, Veronica Ferres as Countess Vorontzova, Jeanne Moreau as Empress Elizabeth, and Omar Sharif as Razmumovsky.
Yet another cinematic retelling of the life and reign of Catherine the Great, this film begins with Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst’s arrival in Russia and marriage to Grand Duke Peter, and follows her rise to power. Uniquely, it also includes some of the principal events in her reign, including the Pugachev revolt. Unfortunately, much of this was jettisoned when the film appeared on North American television, and in the subsequent North American video and DVD releases; only the original German release is complete.
The film benefited from the sure hand of director Marvin Chomsky, the man responsible for both “Peter the Great” and “Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna.” Filmed in Vienna and Berlin, the story covered the basics of Catherine's life, and contained strong performances from its all-star cast. Catherine Zeta-Jones, like other actresses who had portrayed the Empress before her, was far too beautiful to accurately represent the rather plain, somewhat overweight Catherine of history, particularly by the time she reached the throne. But her performance was effective, and she managed to capture the Empress’s sense of determination to succeed in her new country. The film was also unique in that two real-life brothers portrayed two of the Orlov brothers. This was, incidentally, the second role for actress Jeanne Moreau in a film on the Romanovs (she had previously portrayed Catherine herself in “Great Catherine”) and the third for Omar Sharif, who had acted in both “Peter the Great” and “Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna.”
The main problems with the film are really two: although it attempted to convey a broader sweep of Catherine’s reign than other productions, it suffered from its headlong rush, compressing incidents and characters to achieve its ends. The second problem is more difficult to explain. “Katherina der Grosse” just quite never clicks, never comes together as a cogent story, much less an interesting one. The story should contain all necessary elements to build dramatic tension, and yet it never does. That, unfortunately, is the sense that pervades the film-one of lost opportunities, which are to be all the more regretted given the cast and the attempts at accuracy.
Also known as “Danielle Steel’s ‘Zoya.’” US, 1995. Television production. Drama. Color; English language; Running time: 171 minutes; Directed by Richard A. Colla; Screenplay by L. Virginia Browne, based on the novel by Danielle Steel. Starring Melissa Gilbert as Zoya Ossipov, Bruce Boxleitner as Clayton Andrews, David Warner as Prince Vladimir, Diana Rigg as Evgenia, Kristofer Batho as Grand Duke Kirill, Julie Cox as Grand Duchess Marie Nikolaievna, and Jennifer Hilary as Empress Alexandra.
This adaptation of romance novelist Danielle Steel’s book “Zoya” begins in pre-Revolutionary Russia and follows the life of a young Countess who is forced to flee and make a new life in America. Several scenes were filmed at Tsarskoye Selo and its Feodorovsky Gorodok, as well as in the Yusupov Palace on the Moika Canal and the Shuvalov Palace in St. Petersburg. Among the latter are some fiction scenes that create a friendship between Zoya and Grand Duchess Marie Nikolaievna, and thus allow for the introduction of a brief encounter with Empress Alexandra.
TSESAREVICH ALEXEI 1996
Russia, 1996. Drama; Color; Russian language; Running time: 122 minutes; Directed by Vitali Melnikov; Screenplay by Vitali Melnikov, based on the novel by Dimitri Merezhkovsky. Starring Aleksei Zuyev as Tsesarevich Alexei Petrovich, Viktor Stepanov as Peter the Great, Yekaterina Kulakova as Afrosinya Fedorova, Natalya Yegorova as Catherine I, and Vladimir Menshov as Alexander Menshikov.
A chronicle of the traumatic life of Peter the Great’s ill-fated son and heir Tsesarevich Alexei, this film manages to convey the desperation and drama of his story. Alexei is presented as a tortured soul, neglected as a child and by turns used and ignored by his parents; aware that he does not fit his powerful father’s ideal, he gives in to alcohol, which goes hand-in-hand with his physical weakness to paint a young man caught in an impossible situation. In the end, Alexei’s inability to win his father’s affections result in tragedy when he is arrested, accused of conspiring against the Throne, and tortured before facing his sad fate.
Viktor Stepanov’s Peter the Great is depicted as a pompous brute, a man with no patience for those who display (as did his son) any hint of weakness; he is mercurial in mood, moving from boisterous drinking scenes with Menshikov and Catherine to paranoid delusion and finally to violent retribution. But the heart of the film is Aleksei Zueyv’s portrayal of the doomed Tsesarevich, who is forced, by circumstance and his father’s displeasure to operate on the fringes and live in the shadows of a court consumed with insecurity. And while the source material may not quite be accurate to history, the film manages to give a real sense of the sheer hopelessness that, in the end, overwhelmed the young man.
“Tsesarevich Alexei” was filmed in St. Petersburg, and made use of the city’s numerous period buildings, including the accurate settings of the Summer Palace, the Menshikov Palace, and the Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul. The costumes and music are splendidly dealt with, and the cinematography, which in many cases duplicates famous paintings depicting incidents in the life of Peter the Great, is a masterpiece of lavish colors and deep, ominous shadows.
Also known as “Rasputin, Dark Servant of Destiny.” US/Hungary/Russia, 1996. HBO Television production. Drama; color; English language; Running time: 96 minutes; Directed by Uli Edel; Screenplay by Peter Pruce; Cinematography by Elemér Ragályi; Costume design by Natasha Landau; Art Direction by Miljen Kreka Kljakovic, Branimir Babic, Yuri Pashigoryev, Lorand Javor, Aleksandar Denic, and Livia Balogh. Starring Alan Rickman as Rasputin, Greta Scacchi as Empress Alexandra, Ian McKellen as Nicholas II, David Warner as Dr. Botkin, John Wood as Prime Minister Stolypin, James Frain as Prince Felix Yusupov, Ian Hogg as Purishkevich, Freddie Findlay as Tsesarevich Alexei, and Julian Curry as Dr. Lazovert.
To date, this is the most recent depiction of the familiar Rasputin story. The film itself is straightforward enough: it opens with scene-setting narration voiced-over by actor Freddie Findlay, in his role as Tsesarevich Alexei. Young Rasputin is seen in his Siberian village of Pokrovskoye, demonstrating his early powers, before an edit presents him as an adult arriving in St. Petersburg, having been influenced by a vision in which the Virgin Mary has told him to walk across Russia. He quickly comes to the attention of the Emperor and Empress; visiting a sick Alexei in the palace, he soothes his painful leg, limping from the room as if he has taken the illness on himself. Nicholas accepts his presence, albeit somewhat reluctantly, while Alexandra is completely in thrall to his powers after this demonstration.
The film paints Nicholas and Alexandra as a deeply loving couple caught in desperate circumstances beyond their control, and thus susceptible to Rasputin’s apparent ability to alleviate the suffering of their only son. Rasputin himself is somewhat more complex: the film is unique in that it accords him with true spiritual gifts and a deep religiosity rather than presenting him as an undisputed charlatan. Still, this Rasputin is a man torn between his spiritual longings and the temptations that come his way, and he moves easily from deep prayer to bedding women, all the while whispering such assurances as “I talk to God. Kiss me, and you kiss Him.” The end result is a portrait of a man rather burdened with his spiritual gifts and abilities, constantly at war with the two conflicting natures that reside in him.
There is little focus on the political role Rasputin played, especially in the last few years of the Empire’s existence, when his influence was at its height; one scene depicts him dictating a letter to the Empress, but this is as far as the screenplay goes in exploring the chaotic situation in which the peasant had a hand. Director Uli Edel seems to have made a conscious decision to steer clear of the ministerial ins and outs that plagued Russia and made Rasputin the most hated man in the country in favor of a kind of triple drama enacted between the peasant and the Imperial couple. Such considerations help enhance the inherent human elements of the story, but result in some awkward historical glitches, including the continued presence of Prime Minister Peter Stolypin (actor John Wood, who had appeared in 1971’s “Nicholas and Alexandra” as Colonel Kobylinsky) to the beginning of the First World War, three years after his actual death. The restrictions placed upon the motion picture also hamper the accurate portrayal of Rasputin’s infamous death: while some peripheral characters in the larger story, such as Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, make small appearances, Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich is notable for his absence.
The film also includes a bit of pure fictionalized drama to even out the tone previously set, when Alexandra confronts Rasputin over his powers, and he confesses that perhaps he only thought he saw his vision of the Virgin. Horrified, the Empress angrily and tearfully denounces him. While this certainly levels the field on the issue of whether Rasputin’s abilities were genuine or not as far as this dramatization, it is not only a piece of pure invention but also undermines the larger, mystical premise of the entire film.
Rasputin’s murder is enacted according to Yusupov’s version, though without the presence of all of his fellow conspirators, and was filmed in the actual cellar room of the Moika Palace where the real event took place in 1916; Rasputin’s body is also shown being correctly thrown off the Petrovsky Bridge over the frozen Neva. “Rasputin” moves behind the peasant’s death to briefly follow the fate of the Romanovs, ending with their execution in 1918. Although the execution scenes is-like all others-dispensed with quickly, it includes a touching moment on which the film ends, with a dying Alexei on the floor, hearing Rasputin’s voice asking, “Is the pain gone?”
The performances in the film are uniformly excellent, beginning with Rickman’s portrayal of Rasputin. His is a conflicted character, caught between forces he does not understand and victim to situations and circumstances that make him far more sympathetic than any other cinematic depiction. Rickman manages to convey the essence of this turmoil in an award-winning performance that, if not quite the definitive portrayal, at least presents viewers with a far different Rasputin than that shown in other films.
As Nicholas and Alexandra, Sir Ian McKellen and Greta Scacchi present sympathetic portrayals of the doomed Imperial couple, though they are far less satisfactory in their impact. McKellen’s is a gentle, loving Nicholas, befuddled at events around him; it is scarcely his fault that the script presents such a one-dimensional, overtly sympathetic character, with no hint of the real Emperor’s disastrous rule. Scacchi is a good actress, but she is too young, thin, and attractive to accurately play the middle-aged Alexandra, and there is little of the real Empress’s suffocating dominance and paranoia here. Freddie Findlay, as Alexei, does turn in an exceptional performance that, working within the bounds imposed by the script, manages to evoke great sympathy for the hemophiliac Alexei.
THE SUCCESSOR 1996
US, 1996. Thriller. Color; English language; Running time: 104 minutes; Directed by Rodoh Seji; Screenplay by Satohiro Akimoto and Willard Carroll. Starring Jason Connery as Peter Reardon, Igor Solovyov as Rasputin, Gennadi Glagolev as Nicholas II, Anna Zapryagalova as Empress Alexandra, Yuria Kopirova as Grand Duchess Olga, Anna Mishina as Grand Duchess Tatiana, Natasha Inozemtseva as Grand Duchess Marie, Christina Vichov as Grand Duchess Anastasia, and Yaroslav Primachenko as Tsesarevich Alexei.
A tale of political espionage and romance, set against a Russian backdrop and involving unknown claimants to the Romanov Throne. Nicholas II and his family appear in one of the flashback sequences set before the Revolution.
ANASTASIA FOX 1997
US, 1997. Musical; Animated; Color; Running time 103 minutes; English language; With the voices of Meg Ryan as Anastasia, John Cusack as Dimitri, Kelsey Grammer as Vladimir, Angela Lansbury as Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, Christopher Lloyd as Rasputin, Hank Azaria as Bartok, and Bernadette Peters as Sophie. Music and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty.
This Fox animated feature may well be best remembered for both the immense amount of publicity and merchandising which accompanied its release in December, 1997, as well as the small but vocal outcry from historical purists who protested its revisionist storyline.
In the 1990s, Disney Studios successfully revived the art of the animated feature, with such successes as “The Little Mermaid” and “The Lion King.” The newly formed Fox Animation Studios hoped to duplicate these financial and critical rewards. Throughout the 1990s, interest in the Romanovs and Imperial Russia had been high, and Bill Mechanic, Chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment, was determined to capitalize on this trend.
In late 1995, meeting with his staff, he raised the idea of an animated version of Anastasia. The project was greeted with much enthusiasm, but Mechanic was careful to follow the Disney trend and produce a feature that would appeal to adults as well as children. “I was very keen not to make a kids’ picture,” Mechanic explained. “Everybody kept trying to write it for children, as they want to do with all these movies, and insult the intelligence of the children and even more so the adults. I hated sitting through those movies with my daughters and was really focused on us avoiding that.”(1)The story that eventually developed was a simple re-telling of elements of the Anna Anderson tale, with dramatic liberties taken on nearly every front. Although the Marcelle Maurette play was acknowledged in the credits, the writers changed a number of important elements. The Fox version opened in 1916, with a ball at the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo to celebrate the Tercentenary of the House of Romanov. In a quiet moment, the Dowager Empress presents Anastasia with a Faberge music box. When wound with a special necklace, adorned with the words, “Together in Paris,” it plays a lullaby, “Once Upon a December,” as figures of Nicholas and Alexandra dance.
The festivities are interrupted by the arrival of the menacing Rasputin, who places a curse on the Imperial Family, declaring that all members of the Romanov Family will be killed within two weeks. Sure enough, Revolution breaks out, and an angry mob storms the Palace. Young Anastasia flees with her grandmother the Dowager Empress, helped through a secret wall panel by Dimitri, a kitchen boy. On the run, they are chased by Rasputin, who races across a frozen canal only to fall beneath the ice and drown. As they reach a train waiting to rescue them, Anastasia and her grandmother are separated. The Dowager Empress escapes to Paris, the rest of the Imperial Family are killed, and young Anastasia, suffering from amnesia, is placed in an orphanage.
Ten years later, Anya leaves the orphanage. All she has to remind her of the past is her necklace, emblazoned with the cryptic words, “Together in Paris.” On the road, she meets Pooka, an abandoned dog, and follows him to St. Petersburg. In an effort to get exit papers to journey to Paris, she tracks down Vladimir, a former Court official said to have cornered the black market on forged documents. Vladimir is working with the now adult Dimitri, trying to find a young girl to pass off as the missing Anastasia, to claim the missing Romanov fortunes after a reunion in Paris with the Dowager Empress. When Anya tracks the pair down to the abandoned Catherine Palace, the two men quickly recognize her startling resemblance to a portrait showing Anastasia, and convince her to join them on their journey to Paris.
In the meantime, Rasputin, though dead, has sold his soul to the Devil, and, with the aid of Bartok, his faithful Bat-sidekick, is revived, determined to fulfill his prophecy that all members of the Imperial Family will be killed. He chases the escaping trio across Russia and to Paris, where Anya is reunited with the Dowager Empress, her necklace unlocking both the key to her missing identity and to the Faberge music box that Marie Feodorovna has treasured in exile. Just as Anastasia is about to make her society debut, however, Rasputin captures her in a garden, attempting to kill her. Dimitri comes to her rescue, dispatches Rasputin, and the two young lovers bid goodbye to the Dowager Empress to pursue their romance, vowing to return again one day to Paris.
The film, which used both computer and hand-drawn cell animation, coupled with 3-D technology, is visually stunning. Several of the set pieces-the opening scenes at the Catherine Palace, the dance sequence in St. Isaac’s Square to the song, “A Rumor in St. Petersburg,” and the train derailment-are unique fusions of both animation and live-action washed out to blend into the background. The producers originally intended to use the Nicholas Hall in the Winter Palace for the opening ball scene, but after visiting the Catherine Palace, decided that it would make a more breathtaking setting. They took the basic design of Rastrelli’s Great Gallery, raised the ceiling, and added a staircase at one end, to provide a more dramatic backdrop for the arrival of the Imperial Family.(2) Other authentic touches included copies of the real Anastasia’s drawings, and photographs on the palace walls showing the Imperial yacht “Standart.”
Is the film historically accurate? No. But it is a charming, exceptionally well-done piece of animation, with a rich, dazzling visual look. A blitz of specialized marketing accompanied the release of the film. First and foremost is a large coffee-table book, “The Art of Anastasia,” devoted to the making of the feature, and the animation techniques that played such a central role in bringing the film to life. This was one of several expensive items clearly intended for the adult market; others included porcelain reproduction dolls showing Anastasia in Russian Court dress, and actual animation cells from the film.
But “Anastasia” was clearly aimed for a youthful audience of would-be consumers, as a glance at the promotional tie-in materials quickly reveals. Heading the list were a number of related children’s books. “Anastasia: The Classic Edition,” adapted from the film by A. L. Singer and illustrated by Bob DePew, neatly encapsulates the story of the film in just under a hundred pages, lavishly illustrated with twenty-six reproductions from the actual feature. The larger-format illustrated edition, simply called “Anastasia,” contains fifty animated scenes from the film, spread across its roughly one hundred pages. The text is basic, adapted by Maggie Blackwell and reduced to a few bubble captions, in keeping with the intended audience.
A smaller book, “Anastasia: Introducing Anastasia and Friends,” contains a pop-up scene depicting the young Grand Duchess, and provides brief biographical sketches of the film’s principal characters. “Anastasia Goes to a Party” is a longer-format pull-tab book, with shifting scenes set in Paris after Anastasia has been reunited with her grandmother, Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna. “Princess Anastasia,” illustrated with scenes from the film and accompanied by a short text in verse, was geared toward the three to seven-year-old age group. Other titles released by Harper Collins included “Anastasia Meets Rasputin” and the “Anastasia Mini-Library,” a series of small books presented in a pictorial slipcase.
Several of the secondary characters from the film were also given their own books. “Party with Bartok,” a picture book aimed at those between the ages of three to six, contains a few references to the film, but devotes most of its pages to relating an imagined romance between Bartok the Bat, seen as Rasputin’s sidekick, and his new female friend. Bartok also had a second book devoted to his adventures, titled “Bartok Goes Batty!” “Pooka Visits Paris,” named for the little dog Anastasia befriends, contains a plastic imitation of the animal which squeaks when pushed.
Harper Collins also published several blank books tied to the movie. “My Anastasia Memory Book” contained illustrations from the film, spaced between lined pages which included spaces to list such things as “My Favorite Friends,” “My Room,” and, of course, “My Favorite Scene from Anastasia.” “My Anastasia Musical Diary” contained a few selected scenes from the film spread across its hundred pages; when opened, a battery-operated mechanism in the cover plays the lullaby “Once Upon a December” from the film.
Fox also signed an exclusive deal with Burger King, licensing four different sets of plastic toys derived from the film including Anastasia herself, Bartok the Bat, and a replica of the train on which Anastasia flees Russia. The toys, available with Children’s Meals for an additional two dollars, apparently quickly sold out, and are now prized by collectors.
“Anastasia” is also memorable for the uproar surrounding its production and premiere. Certain Romanov devotees. somehow feeling that the memory of the Imperial Family was being maligned, literally took up a protest campaign, sending e-mails, writing letters, and blanketing internet newsgroups with fierce condemnations. However strongly they might have felt, it was undoubtedly misguided; no one before had risen in protest at the dramatic liberties taken in any of the other Romanov-related films. In their haste to condemn, they missed what amounted to a beguiling, well-done piece of fantasy.
US, 1997. Drama; Animated; Color; Running time: 47 minutes; Screenplay by Leonard Lee; Storyline by Roddy Lee and Roz Phillips. With the voices of Carol Adams, Peter McAllum and Lee Perry.
This and the animated feature below were both rushed into production to capitalize on the publicity of Twentieth-Century-Fox’s “Anastasia.” The animation of both features, each with a running time of just under an hour, is somewhat crude; certainly there can be no comparison to the careful and elaborate designs used by Fox.
The first animated feature opens in Ekaterinburg, in the summer of 1918. A narrator explains that the Imperial Family has been executed by the Bolsheviks. But young Anastasia has survived the massacre, rescued by Leon Dominick, a trusted family friend and courtier. He spirits her away to a small dacha hidden in a forest, where a peasant couple, Boris and Gregoria Popolovich, agree to look after her. Anastasia has lost her memory; as in the feature below, she has only a Faberge Egg to remind her of her identity. Boris Popolovich is kind to her, but his wife treats her as a servant, telling her that she must earn her keep as a daughter of the household. Unhappy, Anastasia runs away, and meets Alexander, a young soldier who helps her escape. When she has gone, Gregoria discovers her true identity, and alerts the Bolsheviks, who then embark on a hunt to chase down and kill the Grand Duchess. But, with the aid of Alexander, Anastasia manages to escape to Austria, where she marries her handsome savior.
Although fictionalized, the storyline contains just enough elements of the Anastasia-Anna Anderson story-rescue from the Ekaterinburg massacre, a young soldier named Alexander, a hunt by the Bolsheviks for a missing Grand Duchess-to retain some interest. It does not purport to accurately convey the entire story, but in its basic outline it does remain closer to the historical truth than does the Fox feature.
US, 1997. Musical; Animated; Color; Screenplay by Libby Hinson and Charles Martinet; Lyrics by Lowell Alexander; Produced by Diane Eskenazi; Distributed by Sony-Warner for Golden Films.
This, the second animated feature to follow close on the heels of the Fox film, was a Japanese production, with a little more attention to detail than the above listing. Animators copied the Grand Staircase from the Great Palace at Peterhof, the exterior of Palace Square in St. Petersburg, and the buildings and archway of the General Staff Building, in an effort to lend some authenticity to its setting.
More detail, too, appears to have taken in the storyline, where Anastasia is shown living with her family, and caring for her brother Alexei, pushing him about in a wheelchair after a hemophiliac attack. The feature also depicts Anastasia meeting a young soldier, Alexander, in her Red Cross Hospital during the War. When the Emperor abdicates and the Imperial Family is taken to Siberia, Alexander follows, managing to take a position as a guard at the Ipatiev House to be near Anastasia. Learning that the family is to be executed one evening, he watches helplessly as Anastasia is led to the basement slaughter; on loading the bodies on to the waiting trucks, he discovers that she is alive, and spirits her off to the forest, where, in the best fairy-tale tradition, they presumably live happily-ever-after.
NA ZARE TUMANNOY YUNOSTI 1997
Also known as “The Dawn of Our Youth.” Russia, 1997. Drama. Color; Russian language; Running time: 108 minutes; Directed by Vassili Panin; Screenplay by Vassili Panin and Edgar Smirnov. Starring Aleksandr Vershinin as Alexei Koltsov, Viktor Pavlov as Oleg Koltsov, Aristarkh Livanov as the Governor-General, and Aleksandr Goloborodko as Nicholas I.
A drama set against the reign of Nicholas I.
SIBIRSKIY TSIRYULNIK 1998
Also known as “The Barber of Siberia.” Russia/France, 1998. Comedy; Color; Russian language (English subtitles); Running time: 275 minutes (some edited prints run 180 minutes); Directed by Nikita Mikhalkov; Screenplay by Rustam Ibragimbekov and Nikita Mikhalkov. Starring Julia Ormond as Jane Callahan, Richard Harris as Douglas McCracken, Alexei Petrenko as General Radlov, Oleg Menshikov as Andrei Tolstoy, Nikita Mikhalkov as Alexander III, and Isabelle Renauld as Empress Marie Feodorovna.
“Sibirskiy Tsiryulnik” literally means “Barber of Siberia,” and serves as an apt title for this darkly comic story of love and adventure set in the reign of Alexander III. The centerpiece of the tale is the story of American Jane Callaghan, who arrives in Russia in 1885 to assist lunatic engineer Douglas McCracken in his attempts to influence the government. McCracken has invented a monstrous piece of machinery he dubs “the Barber of Siberia,” capable of slicing through forests of pristine birch trees in an effort to exploit their timber resources. This environmental nightmare, which McCracken fondly calls, “My baby,” exists only in rough prototype, however; to finance his plans, McCracken needs money, and is convinced that one of the Romanov Grand Dukes will not be averse to the financial rewards he is certain will come. To this end, he hires the very beautiful Jane Callaghan to pose as his daughter, with the task of influencing, cajoling, or seducing her way to a guarantee of funding.
Jane leaves Siberia for Moscow, determined to win over the powerful General Radlov, a comic drunkard but a man of great influence who quickly falls in love with her. But during the journey Jane has met Andrei Tolstoy, a handsome young cadet, with whom she shares many interests. She finds herself caught between the two as they vie for her attention. Radlov, in an effort to win her over, drunkenly orders Tolstoy to plead his case with some awfully translated poetry (“Love is like the measles,” the dutiful cadet intones on the general’s behalf), but Tolstoy himself soon declares his love and beds her. When he later hears Jane, in an effort to win the general’s support, declare that she has absolutely no interest in the young man, Tolstoy is crushed and, after attacking Radlov, is banished to Siberia. In the end, Jane marries McCracken, but returns to Siberia many years later to search for her former lover, who is the father of her son, a cadet at West Point.
Mikhalkov, whose previous works included the unforgettable “Burnt by the Sun,” made “Sibirskiy Tsiryulnik” as a kind of romantic comedy, but in the end, it satisfied very few moviegoers. There was a great deal of criticism within Russia over its light, comedic tone, implying that the director had turned his back on the great epic dramas so beloved in his native land. Then, too, he was roundly condemned in the press for his large budget, for hiring non-Russian actors, and for weaving such an insubstantial story round a group of Western characters. Nor did the film please many who viewed it in the West, where its highly nationalistic tone and patronizing attitudes toward non-Russians and, particularly, to Americans (one scene takes great pride in contrasting Russian and American cadets, and declares that Americans are so uncultured that they would not know who Mozart was), made for sometimes uncomfortable viewing. The picture Mikhalkov paints of Imperial Russia is overly sentimental and filled with nostalgia for the “good old days” of Empire, forgetting and ignoring the reality of the situation, and this, too, became a common complaint in reviews.
“Sibirskiy Tsiryulnik” is certainly not a great film, as was “Burnt by the Sun,” but the criticism-both Russian and Western-sabotaged what little hope it had of success. The Russian criticisms stung, as they all missed Mikhalkov’s clear intention to create a piece of fantasy, a light comedy with wide appeal; nor did the Western critics show any better insight, completely missing the film’s obvious tongue-in-cheek quality. The film certainly reflects some of the rising Russian nationalistic spirit, but such an off-putting declaration was scarcely the director’s intent. “Sibirskiy Tsiryulnik” should be viewed and enjoyed for what it is-a nicely photographed, well-acted bit of fluff-rather than imbued with the cultural biases to which it fell victim.
NEZRIMY PUTESHESTVENNIK 1999
Russia, 1999. Drama. Color; Russian language; Running time: 87 minutes; Directed by Dmitri Talankin and Igor Talankin; Screenplay by Igor Talankin. Starring Vassili Lanovoy as Alexander I, and Alla Demidova as Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna.
“Nezrimy Puteshestvennik” tells the story of the last days of Alexander I in December 1825. It imagines a scenario in which the Emperor and his wife Elizabeth discuss their life together, and the difficulties against which they have struggled, from shared infidelities and the war against Napoleon to Alexander’s continued guilt over his role in the assassination of his father Paul I. The ending echoes the legend of Feodor Kuzmich, wherein the Emperor, after a vision, decides to escape the burdens of the throne and retires to a quiet, monastic life under anonymity.
THE QUEEN OF SPADES 1999
US/RUSSIA, 1999. Musical. Color; English and Russian languages; Running time: 98 minutes; Directed by Brian Large; Screenplay by Brian Large, based on the short story by Alexander Pushkin; Libretto by Modest Tchaikovsky. Starring Olga Bogachyova as the Governess, Olga Borodina as Pauline, Plácido Domingo as Herman, Galina Gorchakova as Lisa, Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Prince Yeletsky, Nikolai Putilin as Count Tomsky, Inga Rappaport as Catherine the Great, and Elisabeth Söderström as the Countess.
One of the many cinematic renderings of the famous story, which includes an appearance from Catherine the Great.
1. Harvey Deneroff, “The Art of Anastasia,” New York: Harper Collins, 1997, 7.
2. Ibid., 84.
“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.