THE LAST CZARS REVIEW: A GRIPPING SNEAK-PEEK INTO RUSSIAN HISTORY

THE LAST CZARS REVIEW: A GRIPPING SNEAK-PEEK INTO RUSSIAN HISTORY

Production House: Nutopia Cast: Robert Jack, Susanna Herbert, Ben Cartwright Dialogues: Christopher Bell, Dana Fainaru Music: Tom Howe Cinematography: Tom Pridham, Benjamin Pritchard Editing: Graeme Dawson, Julian Hart, Robin Hill Producers: Ben Goold, Jane Root, Gary Tuck, Lineta Miseikyte Story: (Docu-drama inspired by true events) Direction: Adrian McDowall, Gareth Tunley Premiere date: July 3 Story: The Romanov dynasty is all set to hand over reins to its next eligible, yet reluctant heir Czar Nicholas II (Robert Jack) at the age of 26 after the untimely death of his father. Nicholas goes onto wed empress Alexandra Feodorovna while life isn't exactly a bed of roses for the young, timid king. His indecisiveness makes him ill-equipped for the throne that he had earned by hereditary and not by ability, a facet that many milk to their advantage. The wildly passionate couple Nicholas and Alexandra turn parents to four daughters and are desperate to give birth to a boy, who could succeed Nicholas. Alas, Alexandra's wish comes true, but with an element of a curse too, the child named Alexei is diagnosed with hemophilia by birth. A religious guru with a mysterious past, Rasputin enters the Czar's court only to create further mayhem, positioning himself as a healer to Alexei. This is indeed the beginning of the fall of an empire that plunges into oblivion, eventually meeting its end in 2017. Artistes’ Performances: The casting director of the series is its unsung hero for her ability to pick actors who not only match the physicality of the real-life characters but also back it with their terrific acting mettle. Despite playing an innately flawed character like Nicholas, it's hard not to empathise for Robert Jack's performance. The actor, in an anti-hero role, does a fine job in conveying the mental trauma, indecisive yet impulsive nature of Russia's last Czar and makes us root for him with all his flaws too. Susanna Herbert is seen in an equally interesting role as an extremely dogmatic empress, who sinks into deeper trouble owing to her association with a spiritual guru. As a doting mother, incapable administrator and a dutiful wife, there are so many dimensions to her role and she pulls it off with panache and unquestionable authority. Ben Cartwright plays Rasputin, the religious healer who plays a key role in bringing the curtains down to a royal empire with a rich legacy. It's an eccentric role, given the character's confused sexuality, his participation in religious cult involving sexual orgies besides his mysterious association with the queen. Cartwright looks and acts as creepy as the role in the series wants him to be. Most of the character artistes including the actors who play the king's children, his mother, the army officers, and the royal staff, complement the lead actors with their assured acts. Technical Merit Direction: With a sensitive story that demands historical accuracy, dramatic treatment and has to possess a docu-like quality and tension at the same time, the directorial duo of Adrian McDowall and Gareth Tunley responds with great precision. Though they tend to overplay the drama element in the series beyond necessity, the directors are successful in creating well-rounded characters with several shades of grey and providing enough space for the audiences to understand and mostly empathise with their situations and intentions. The nuances and detailing in the series are delicately woven into the narrative and they take time to grow on you. Providing a strong context to every decision that the characters take, The Last Czars is superb in terms of registering an emotional connect. The series talks of rumours, alternate theories, controversies pertaining to the Romanov dynasty and is mostly willing to call spade a spade, maintaining its objectivity. The Bloody Sunday, the first World War, Lenin's rise, the series scores high on historical accuracy and doesn't indulge with any uncalled-for cinematic liberties. The realtime footage of the incidents in the early 1900s, historian accounts and the reimagination of the dynasty's story find a perfect meeting ground. Dialogues: The dialogues aren't quite the high point of the series. The writers try too hard to reinstate the identity of the characters through their lines and it grows on your nerves beyond a point. Better use of silence and gestures/histrionics could have toned down the verbose quality of the series. Cinematography: The magnificence of this series shows in its effort to draw you into the royal era through the visuals. From the intricately-carved royal backdrops to the fine attire of its leading protagonists to the choice of several scenic locations in and around Russia, several aspects contribute to the spellbinding visual impact. The right changes in the tone of the frames pertaining to the tempo of the episodes work well in crafting an authentic and equally eye-catchy world. Music: The background score of the series is understated for the most part and rightly so, for the fact that potent situations and drama demand the soundtrack to be subtle and not heavy on the ears. Simple and effective indeed! Editing: The editor's job in the series is certainly cut out because of the diversity in terms of the footage and not letting the documentary-tone of the series impact its dramatic elements. On the whole, the result is seamless and the royal Russian family couldn't have asked for a better digital tribute. Production standards: The Last Czars is amongst the most visually enriching experiences created by Netflix after The Crown. The makers are uncompromising in taking a nostalgic dive into the late 1890s and early 1900s of Russia with utmost grandeur and technical finesse. Highlights: Multi-layered narrative Nuanced characterisation Superb performances Drawbacks: The length of the series at nearly 270 minutes Melodramatic dialogue Analysis: The Last Czars is undoubtedly a story that deserved to be told on a large canvas. The timing of the series is also interesting, given the resurgence of right-wing forces across the world. The series is effective because it doesn't merely try to fill in spaces between historical events in a timeline. There's an excellent amount of homework that the makers have done in adding interesting quirks and personality traits to the real-life characters. The docu-drama is educative, informative and engaging at once. The intensity of the series is sustained across all the episodes; though the makers occasionally overdo their efforts to create some tension in the narrative. However, neat, assured performances and the effort to look at history from multiple dimensions leave you impressed. Icing on the cake: A chilling historical account on the fall of an empire Rating: 3.5/5


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