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In 1910s Russia, Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra find their son Alexei, sole heir to the Romanov dynasty, suffering from hemophelia and conventional medicine failing to help him. Alexandra looks into finding holistic treatment and finds Father Grigori Rasputin, a destitute monk who claims he had a vision from the Virgin Mary telling him that the Tsar needed him. Though Nicholas and the royal doctor are both skeptical of Rasputin's alleged healing abilities, young Alexei quickly bonds with the charleton/prophet, so he remains in the Royal Court. But Rasputin's constant boozing and womanizing angers the aristocracy and worsens the already unstable tensions between Nicholas and his subjects. With the seeds of revolution brewing, it becomes increasingly apparent that a bad end awaits for the entire Royal Family. Written by
When Rasputin first arrives at Tsarskeo Selo to see the Tsarina, the exterior of the palace shows the Alexander Palace at Tsarskeo Selo, yet in interior is the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. See more »
Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin was a controversial figure, but there can be no doubt that he was also a remarkable one, even if one also regards him as a charlatan. For an uneducated peasant to have risen to be the close friend and confidant of one of the world's most powerful monarchs is no mean achievement. What, however, caused him to live in the popular imagination was his own bloody murder in 1916, followed by that of the Imperial Family two years later in the wake of the Russian Revolution. Had there been no Revolution, Rasputin would today be a minor figure, forgotten by all except specialists in the history of early twentieth century Russia.
It is hardly surprising that there have been a number of films about him, the first- presumably an anti-Russian propaganda film- being made in Germany only a year after his death. "Rasputin and the Empress" from 1932 is remembered today less by film buffs than by it is lawyers, as it gave rise to a lawsuit which led to one of the leading cases in English libel law. Hammer's famously inaccurate "Rasputin the Mad Monk" from 1966 is essentially a horror film dressed up as a historical drama. (The inaccuracy starts with the title; Rasputin, a self-proclaimed "holy man", was never a monk). He appears in "Nicholas and Alexandra" from 1971, but only in a supporting role; as its title suggests that film deals primarily with the doomed Imperial couple.
This film is probably the best filmed version of his life that I have seen, despite one or two historical inaccuracies. The main reason is the fine performance by Alan Rickman in the title role. The historical Rasputin seems to have had great charisma and a certain spirituality; his claim to possess abilities as a faith healer may have been genuine. Combined with these qualities, however, were his notorious moral weaknesses; he was both a drunkard and a womaniser. (His enemies seized gleefully on the similarity between his surname and the Russian adjective "rasputniy", meaning "debauched"). His influence over the Tsar was not always a beneficent one, although it is noteworthy that he opposed the fateful decision- to go to war with Germany in 1914- which was eventually to lead to the downfall of the Romanovs. Rickman, often good when portraying morally ambiguous figures like Severus Snape in the "Harry Potter" films, brings out all these contradictory sides of his character, giving us a portrait of a strange, driven individual, both mystic and fanatic, holy man and sinner.
Ian McKellen, whose portrayal owes something to Michael Jayston's in "Nicholas and Alexandra" is good as the Tsar, a hesitant, nervous autocrat, a kindly family man but despotic ruler. I did not, however, care for Greta Scacchi as Alexandra. (I much preferred Janet Suzman). Scacchi, previously better known for playing sexually provocative temptresses in films like "Heat and Dust", "White Mischief" and "Presumed Innocent", never seems either sufficiently regal or sufficiently commanding. Alexandra was the dominant partner in her marriage, and the influence of this German-born woman over the Tsar was resented by many Russians, especially after 1914). At least Scacchi gets to keep her clothes on in this film; it is a popularly held, although inaccurate, belief that Rasputin was (in the words of Boney M) "lover of the Russian Queen", but this canard is not repeated in the film.
As a whole, the film is not quite as good as "Nicholas and Alexandra", lacking the earlier film's epic grandeur and visual splendour. It never, however, sets out to be a major epic of that sort, having been made for television rather than the cinema screen. As a made-for-TV historical drama it is very watchable. 7/10
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