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As Europe looms on the edge of war in 1913, the family and members of the court of the Russian czar Nicholas come under the sway of a mysterious mystic named Rasputin. When Rasputin miraculously appears to cure the czar's son Alyosha of his hemophilia, the monk's reputation is cemented, particularly in the mind of the princess Natasha. Natasha's fiancé (and, later, husband) Prince Paul Chegodieff, however, suspects Rasputin is a charlatan who will cause the downfall of the royal family and perhaps of Russia itself. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
Great as dramatic history but as for Russian history...
...forget about it. This film is completely inaccurate in its portrayal of actual events in Russian history. As for the nature and character of the historical figures involved, the three Barrymores give good renditions. There is Ethel Barrymore looking every inch the empress and giving a convincing portrayal of a woman concerned for the welfare of her very ill son - and I would expect that. What I didn't expect is how weird it would be to watch a film in which John Barrymore is the shining hero and Lionel Barrymore is a truly diabolical villain, and each are spectacularly convincing in their portrayals. Lionel is really the center of attention here as he plays the evil Rasputin whose ability to sidestep assassination attempts is legendary, and here a few logical explanations are given to some of his alleged abilities. However, none can explain what happened at the end of his life - how he was poisoned, bludgeoned, shot, and finally thrown into an icy river and still managed to cling to life for awhile.
Although Tsar Nicholas is accurately portrayed as a rather weak willed man and the Romanov marriage is also accurately portrayed as one of the few royal arranged marriages that also turned out to be a love match, there is a mischaracterization of the Tsar as being progressive and wanting a Duma only to have Rasputin defeat that plan. In fact, Nicholas was autocratic in his outlook and distrusted any attempt to give the people more say in their government. This sets up one of the great ironic struggles in the film - that of aristocrat Prince Paul Chegodieff (John Barrymore) wanting more for the peasants in the way of both bread and democracy, and that of peasant mystic Rasputin (Lionel Barrymore) saying that it was God's will that the peasants were poor and powerless. Paul wants to save Russia, Rasputin wants to rule it.
Another piece of fiction shown in the movie for dramatic measure are the public proclamations about the illness of Tsaravich Alexai, the heir to the Russian throne. In fact one of the things that turned the Russian people against the royal family - besides the fact that they were starving during WWI - was that the people assumed that Rasputin's hold over the empress was because they were lovers. The Romanovs did not want it to be known that the only son in the family and heir to the throne had a serious disease - in this case hemophilia - that kept him in very delicate health and would likely lead to a greatly shortened lifespan. They felt it would leave them vulnerable to the overthrowing of their rule. Ironically hiding the truth and leaving Rasputin's relationship to the empress unexplained also led to exactly that.
Watch this one for the high production values and compelling performances by the members of Hollywood's royal family during its golden age, but as for a Russian history lesson, look elsewhere.
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