"The last czars" Review

A new docudrama series on the international TV channel Netflix is arousing genuine interest and intense attention: The Last Czarsproduced by the English independent TV production company Nutopia, whose key scenes were filmed in the magnificent forests of Lithuania. Several quality films have already been produced on the fall of Czarism in Russia, which is why it was not easy to significantly engage the viewers in a similar way:  however, this fiction succeeds in adding something new, original while conveying strong emotions. The series is a miscellaneous combination of genres:it is both a documentary, featuring historians narrating the events, through work based on “circumstantial evidence” and, indeed, an extremely meticulous and well-interpreted fiction. In Italy, the series was made available on 3rdJuly 2019.  A series capable of stirring emotions, thanks to the overall drama that took place in Russia between the end of the 19thcentury and the beginning of the 20th century, and more specifically, relating to the Imperial family life: of a life that was, in many respects, a splendid one, albeit already undermined by the haemophilia the heir to the throne suffered from, with an absolutely heart-breaking end. More generally, light was shed on certain dark sides of a revolution, though initially arising from ideals of peace and justice.  As a matter of fact, The Last Czars, a six-episode TV series, proves to be of an artistic nature, narrating a story of everlasting charm: in many respects, it appears to be historically relevant, while in others, not by chance, it transfigures reality, re-enacting what could possibly have happened: developing the potential of a story that had all the ingredients to become a powerful historical novel.

Several less-known aspects were studied in-depth in this TV series: in some scenes, that prove to be effective, for example, when Czarina Alexandra finds solace in taking drugs, enhancing her markedly emphatic behaviour, during her ecstatic religious-mystical experiences. The figure of Rasputin is also very validly performed: a cynical, hedonistic womaniser, who, in his own way, had firmly convinced himself of his mystical afflatus, capable of reading other people’s souls, even if for purposes which were, at times, unclear. The dissolute monk contributed to discrediting the court of Russia, apparently in the hands of deranged lunatics, as no-one could understand the reason for the presence of the adventurer: in fact, very few people knew of the illness afflicting the heir to the throne…the news was widely censured, so as not to allow him to appear too fragile.

Later in the TV series, the very sweet figure of the Grand-Duchess Maria (Czar Nicholas’ third daughter) emerges with her ‘hospitable’ personality: coquettish, while, at the same time, devoid of even the slightest malice, such as the wickedness of hating someone simply for their birth status and therefore their origin. Her flirting with a more humane, kind Red Army soldier may sound superficial, but it was quite the opposite:  it appeared to symbolically represent, by both sides, a way of romantically accepting one another, in a certain sense going beyond fate, enabling them to meet despite holding different positions: the beginning of a love story, nipped in the bud by situations that were out of their control, that unfortunately resulted in predominant inhumanity. Yet, the real revolution, in terms of a more positive upheaval, could have actually been the love story between the Bolshevik guardand Maria, without any prejudice on either side. At times, some of the scenes imply the emergence of a possible philosophy of the story, that could be developed to avoid any future historical tragedies, by analysing exactly what the past had intended to teach us.  The Czar comes across as a meek family man; the real situation of Czarist tyranny is never watered down, and rightly so, if not portrayed as being of an entirely medieval nature, at the very least it was marked by an "Ancien Régime" mentality.However, it could also be perceived that the sovereign was not actually evil, more than anything he appeared to be too distant and "out of sync" compared to his era, which he was not able to tune in to. 

The Emperor was not really cut out for governing, he even cried at his own incoronation, he neither wished to become a Czar nor take on all its overwhelming responsibilities.  There was a plethora of other intense, hard-hitting scenes: including a very moving moment in which the Czar’s children’s tutor, Gilliard, attempts to follow them after the revolution, but was prevented from doing so by Commissioner Jurovsky, who held him at gunpoint: the threat of annihilation isforeseen and perhaps, more than physical violence, it depicts a situation of agony and psychological torture. Even the scene in which the Czarina kneels down in prayer during a humiliating and vexatious search is rather sensational.

The scene in which Nicholas promises to take Alexandra back among the flowers on their estate in Livadya, while the noble family, that had, by then, fallen from grace, was being held prisoner in the Ural Mountains, was particularly heart-wrenching; whilst the thunder of the cannon could be clearly heard, since a no-holds-barred civil war was raging outside, and in the prison-house a pandemonium was about to break loose. Shocking provocations came from some Soviet extremists in Ekaterinburg, (considered too aggressive even by Lenin) who pretended to be liberators, sending little notes to lure the Romanovs out of their exile and to find an excuse to shoot them: all of which were unfortunately true. Albeit may seem debatable to imagine a sanctification of the Romanovs, the provocation unquestionably turned out to be of a diabolical kind: the devilish behaviour that can be found in human nature, in its most heinous form. The scene shot in the room in which the massacre took place could not leave anyone indifferent: the alternation of high hopes and strong fears, the bewilderment and desperation that transpire, definitely shocked viewers.

A scene of paramount importance in the docudrama conveyed feelings one could experience in a similar scary-as-hell scene; Anastasia’s silent, dumbfounded gaze is very eloquent; she seems to have knelt down, saying absolutely nothing, yet communicating with her eyes, giving the impression she wants to ask the reason for such barbaric torture; Jurovsky’s gaze is as equally expressive... Their eyes meet: Jurovsky’s feelings remain unspoken, yet his expression is imbued with icy contempt, the harbinger of cold distance. In fact, it almost seems that Jurovskij wishes to crush a microbe, the bearer of an “ideological infection”: unfortunately, Jurovsky also clearly treats the young female members of the Romanov member just as a "political party",  that he recalls with disgust, stepping over their innocence with regard to any government liability, that incidentally they could never have inherited given the custom, that is due to the fact they were women…

Despite the fact that Jurovsky may have had several valid reasons for hating the Czarist system, nothing, absolutely nothing in the world, could have ever justified his being among those responsible for the massacre that proved to be a dishonourable infamy, an example of unpunished ferocity. In any case, the sombre character was effectively portrayed. The magnitude of what occurred was explained by providing an undoubtedly explosive situation, yet it was also narrated by Gillard’s off-screen voice, to express madness combined with the evils of war.

The series put extremely valid actors in the spotlight, playing the roles of historical characters of whom apparently new personifications had been created: including the Scot Robert Jack (in the role of Nicholas II),  English-born Susanna Herbert, as Czarina Alexandra, Ben Cartwright, as Rasputin, the Scot Duncan Pow as Jurovsky, the young, sweetly beautiful Lithuanian actresses, Gabija Pažūsytė (as Anastasia), Digna Kulionytė (as Maria), Karolina Elžbieta Mikolajūnaitė (as Olga), Aina Norgilaitė (as Tatiana), Indrč Patkauskaitč (as Anna Anderson), the very young Lithuanian actor Oskar Mowdy (as Aleksey). Several works have been dedicated to this historical event, including The Last Czars, adding extremely interesting interpretative keys; moreover, among the most famous are, in particular, the legendary film Anastasia (1956), starring Ingrid Bergman, the English film Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), the Russian films The Assassin of the Tsar(1991), The Romanovs-An Imperial Family(2000), the popular and imaginative cartoon Anastasiaby Don Bluth (1997) and many others besides.

Of the various previous works on this theme, The Last Czarsparticularly recalls the film entitled Nicholas and Alexandra: also this work provides interpretations of the story in an archetypal, poetical style, showing what could have taken place, alongside the potential of certain situations, rather than reproducing what literally occurred, with regards to the events  from which they draw their inspiration: for this very reason, it remains an art film, highlighting the presence of universal, recurrent human denominators, apart from particular circumstances, that appear to be more superstructures compared to recurring feelings in humankind.

Both the more famous and the lesser-known actors distinguished themselves thanks to the intensity of their almost visionary performances, acting as if they were really taking part in the events themselves. The main protagonists included the South African actress Janet Suzman (as the Czarina), the English-born actor Michael Jayston (as the Czar), Lynne Frederick, (as Tatiana) Candace Glendenning (as Maria), Roderic Noble (as Aleksey), Fiona Fullerton (as Anastasia), Ania Marson (the Anglo-Polish actress who plays the role of Olga), who made tragical historical events familiar to common people, thanks to which the film stages a powerful historical novel.  Their prowess and melancholy beauty, both of a haughty yet sweet nature, touched the viewers’ hearts, turning it into an unforgettable film. Finally, the docudrama The Last Czars, successfully blends an almost timeless historical event, with its universal message and with the particularly modern means that broadcasts it. In fact, on Netflix, films and TV series are grouped into different genres, remaining available to the public, almost as if on a computer: a formula encouraging an informed choice as well as a most heart-felt in-depth analysis. 

 

Article written by Antonella Ricciardi, translated into English by

A new docudrama series on the international TV channel Netflix is arousing genuine interest and intense attention: The Last Czars produced by the English independent TV production company Nutopia, whose key scenes were filmed in the magnificent forests of Lithuania. Several quality films have already been produced on the fall of Czarism in Russia, which is why it was not easy to significantly engage the viewers in a similar way:  however, this fiction succeeds in adding something new, original while conveying strong emotions. The series is a miscellaneous combination of genres: it is both a documentary, featuring historians narrating the events, through work based on circumstantial evidence and, indeed, an extremely meticulous and well-interpreted fiction. In Italy, the series was made available on 3rd July 2019.  A series capable of stirring emotions, thanks to the overall drama that took place in Russia between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, and more specifically, relating to the Imperial family life: of a life that was, in many respects, a splendid one, albeit already undermined by the haemophilia the heir to the throne suffered from, with an absolutely heart-breaking end. More generally, light was shed on certain dark sides of a revolution, though initially arising from ideals of peace and justice. As a matter of fact, The Last Czars, a six-episode TV series, proves to be of an artistic nature, narrating a story of everlasting charm: in many respects, it appears to be historically relevant, while in others, not by chance, it transfigures reality, re-enacting what could possibly have happened: developing the potential of a story that had all the ingredients to become a powerful historical novel. Several less-known aspects were studied in-depth in this TV series: in some scenes, that prove to be effective, for example, when Czarina Alexandra finds solace in taking drugs, enhancing her markedly emphatic behaviour, during her ecstatic religious-mystical experiences. The figure of Rasputin is also very validly performed: a cynical, hedonistic womaniser, who, in his own way, had firmly convinced himself of his mystical afflatus, capable of reading other people’s souls, even if for purposes which were, at times, unclear. The dissolute monk contributed to discrediting the court of Russia, apparently in the hands of deranged lunatics, as no-one could understand the reason for the presence of the adventurer: in fact, very few people knew of the illness afflicting the heir to the throneÉthe news was widely censured, so as not to allow him to appear too fragile. Later in the TV series, the very sweet figure of the Grand-Duchess Maria (Czar Nicholas’ third daughter) emerges with her ‘hospitable’ personality: coquettish, while, at the same time, devoid of even the slightest malice, such as the wickedness of hating someone simply for their birth status and therefore their origin. Her flirting with a more humane, kind Red Army soldier may sound superficial, but it was quite the opposite:  it appeared to symbolically represent, by both sides, a way of romantically accepting one another, in a certain sense going beyond fate, enabling them to meet despite holding different positions: the beginning of a love story, nipped in the bud by situations that were out of their control, that unfortunately resulted in predominant inhumanity. Yet, the real revolution, in terms of a more positive upheaval, could have actually been the love story between the Bolshevik guard and Maria, without any prejudice on either side. At times, some of the scenes imply the emergence of a possible philosophy of the story, that could be developed to avoid any future historical tragedies, by analysing exactly what the past had intended to teach us.  The Czar comes across as a meek family man; the real situation of Czarist tyranny is never watered down, and rightly so, if not portrayed as being of an entirely medieval nature, at the very least it was marked by an "Ancien RŽgime" mentality. However, it could also be perceived that the sovereign was not actually evil, more than anything he appeared to be too distant and "out of sync" compared to his era, which he was not able to tune in to. 

The Emperor was not really cut out for governing, he even cried at his own incoronation, he neither wished to become a Czar nor take on all its overwhelming responsibilities. There was a plethora of other intense, hard-hitting scenes: including a very moving moment in which the Czar’s children’s tutor, Gilliard, attempts to follow them after the revolution, but was prevented from doing so by Commissioner Jurovsky, who held him at gunpoint: the threat of annihilation is foreseen and perhaps, more than physical violence, it depicts a situation of agony and psychological torture. Even the scene in which the Czarina kneels down in prayer during a humiliating and vexatious search is rather sensational.

The scene in which Nicholas promises to take Alexandra back among the flowers on their estate in Livadya, while the noble family, that had, by then, fallen from grace, was being held prisoner in the Ural Mountains, was particularly heart-wrenching; whilst the thunder of the cannon could be clearly heard, since a no-holds-barred civil war was raging outside, and in the prison-house a pandemonium was about to break loose. Shocking provocations came from some Soviet extremists in Ekaterinburg, (considered too aggressive even by Lenin) who pretended to be liberators, sending little notes to lure the Romanovs out of their exile and to find an excuse to shoot them: all of which were unfortunately true. Albeit may seem debatable to imagine a sanctification of the Romanovs, the provocation unquestionably turned out to be of a diabolical kind: the devilish behaviour that can be found in human nature, in its most heinous form. The scene shot in the room in which the massacre took place could not leave anyone indifferent: the alternation of high hopes and strong fears, the bewilderment and desperation that transpire, definitely shocked viewers.

A scene of paramount importance in the docudrama conveyed feelings one could experience in a similar scary-as-hell scene; Anastasia’s silent, dumbfounded gaze is very eloquent; she seems to have knelt down, saying absolutely nothing, yet communicating with her eyes, giving the impression she wants to ask the reason for such barbaric torture; Jurovsky’s gaze is as equally expressive... Their eyes meet: Jurovsky’s feelings remain unspoken, yet his expression is imbued with icy contempt, the harbinger of cold distance. In fact, it almost seems that Jurovskij wishes to crush a microbe, the bearer of an Ňideological infectionÓ: unfortunately, Jurovsky also clearly treats the young female members of the Romanov member just as a "political party",  that he recalls with disgust, stepping over their innocence with regard to any government liability, that incidentally they could never have inherited given the custom, that is due to the fact they were womenÉ

Despite the fact that Jurovsky may have had several valid reasons for hating the Czarist system, nothing, absolutely nothing in the world, could have ever justified his being among those responsible for the massacre that proved to be a dishonourable infamy, an example of unpunished ferocity. In any case, the sombre character was effectively portrayed. The magnitude of what occurred was explained by providing an undoubtedly explosive situation, yet it was also narrated by Gillard’s off-screen voice, to express madness combined with the evils of war.

The series put extremely valid actors in the spotlight, playing the roles of historical characters of whom apparently new personifications had been created: including the Scot Robert Jack (in the role of Nicholas II), English-born Susanna Herbert, as Czarina Alexandra, Ben Cartwright, as Rasputin, the Scot Duncan Pow as Jurovsky, the young, sweetly beautiful Lithuanian actresses, Gabija Pažūsytė (as Anastasia), Digna Kulionytė (as Maria), Karolina Elžbieta Mikolajūnaitė (as Olga), Aina Norgilaitė (as Tatiana), Indrč Patkauskaitč (as Anna Anderson), the very young Lithuanian actor Oskar Mowdy (as Aleksey). Several works have been dedicated to this historical event, including The Last Czars, adding extremely interesting interpretative keys; moreover, among the most famous are, in particular, the legendary film Anastasia (1956), starring Ingrid Bergman, the English film Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), the Russian films The Assassin of the Tsar (1991), The Romanovs-An Imperial Family (2000), the popular and imaginative cartoon Anastasia by Don Bluth (1997) and many others besides.

Of the various previous works on this theme, The Last Czars particularly recalls the film entitled Nicholas and Alexandra: also this work provides interpretations of the story in an archetypal, poetical style, showing what could have taken place, alongside the potential of certain situations, rather than reproducing what literally occurred, with regards to the events from which they draw their inspiration: for this very reason, it remains an art film, highlighting the presence of universal, recurrent human denominators, apart from particular circumstances, that appear to be more superstructures compared to recurring feelings in humankind.

Both the more famous and the lesser-known actors distinguished themselves thanks to the intensity of their almost visionary performances, acting as if they were really taking part in the events themselves. The main protagonists included the South African actress Janet Suzman (as the Czarina), the English-born actor Michael Jayston (as the Czar), Lynne Frederick, (as Tatiana) Candace Glendenning (as Maria), Roderic Noble (as Aleksey), Fiona Fullerton (as Anastasia), Ania Marson (the Anglo-Polish actress who plays the role of Olga), who made tragical historical events familiar to common people, thanks to which the film stages a powerful historical novel.  Their prowess and melancholy beauty, both of a haughty yet sweet nature, touched the viewers’ hearts, turning it into an unforgettable film. Finally, the docudrama The Last Czars, successfully blends an almost timeless historical event, with its universal message and with the particularly modern means that broadcasts it. In fact, on Netflix, films and TV series are grouped into different genres, remaining available to the public, almost as if on a computer: a formula encouraging an informed choice as well as a most heart-felt in-depth analysis. 

Article written by Antonella Ricciardi, translated into English by Thérčse Nicola Marshall

 

 

 

 

 



Antonella Ricciardi