Dir: Gleb Panfilov. Russia. 2000. 150 mins.
Prod co: Vera Film Studio. Int'l sales: Vera Film Studio, tel: (7) 095 229 0744. Prod: Vladimir Bychkov. Scr: Gleb Panfilov. DoP: Mikhail Agranovich. Ed: Enzo Meniconi. Music: Vadim Bibergan. Art dirs: Anatoly Panfilov, Alexander Boim. Costume des: Svetlana Titova. Main cast: Alexander Galibin, Lynda Bellingham, Vladimir Grachev, Yulia Novikova, Olga Vasilyeva, Xenia Kachalina, Andrei Kharitonov.
At a cost of $18m, The Romanovs -The Imperial Family is the biggest budget Russian production in the past ten years. Its first rate production values and breathtakingly beautiful sets and costumes, as well the international reputation of director Gleb Panfilov, should earn it theatrical distribution as well as a wide airing on television.
The film is part of a growing trend in Eastern Europe for large-scale historic epics such as Nikita Mikhalkov's Barber Of Siberia and Jerzy Hoffman's With Fire And Sword as well as the soon-to-be-released Russian Rebellion by Aleksandr Proshkin. But while these other films are fiction set against an historic background leaving room for dramatic licence, The Romanovs staggers under its historical weight that makes the two-and-a-half hour film heavy-going as it grinds towards the family's inevitable execution.
This is the first film in ten years for Panfilov, one of Russia's greatest directors from the 1980's. But while Panfilov's Vassa (1983) was a complex study of a pre-Revolutionary family, The Romanovs is a considerably simpler story of a perhaps too well-known subject. The director sets out to focus on the personal tragedy of Nicholas and his family during the last year of their lives rather than the weighty historic events that surround them. Nicholas ably played by Alexander Galibin is a somewhat dull man of modest talents who fails to elicit much of our sympathy despite his plight. British actress Lynda Bellingham as the tsarina on the other hand turns in a masterful performance as the outsider who tries to embrace her new country but ultimately fails to understand anything about it. Both are hated and rejected by the very country and people they love and try to serve.
Settings like the tsar's summer palace at Tsarskoye Selo and the lavishly recreated imperial train have been subtly knitted into the film by Enzo Meniconi who was also Mikhalkov's editor on Barber Of Siberia. But the film's final sequence showing a video of the burial of Nicholas and his family in St Petersburg 80 years later is strangely out of place and looks like an afterthought that will hopefully be removed in future foreign releases.