July 11, 2019

The Last Czars





So The Last Czars on Netflix...is a hot mess.

The studio behind it aimed to create a new genre: what they call "the megadoc.” A high end documentary with taking heads and an action-driven drama. Kind of a good idea, right? Imagine watching a premium cable period drama that cut to people explaining things.

But it just doesn’t work.

It’s weird and it’s jarring and the cuts between scripted actors, talking heads, and real-life footage break your attention. You combine that with random modern phraseology that’ll pop up in the re-enactments and random sexy bits for no good reason and the whole thing becomes kind of weird and off-putting and working against itself—here’s a sex scene with the Czar and his wife aaand--cut to a talking head telling you about poor economic conditions.

You can't have Lenin's tomb BEFORE he's dead.
The show is full of all sorts of little errors and just kind of lazy sloppiness (see the pic on the right for what I'm talking about). Trying to blow through so much important history (important for Russia and the modern world—imagine if there had been no Soviet Union) so quickly with random sexy melodrama reduces a lot of complex figures and movements to cartoony caricature (here's the baaad adviser and here's the good adviser and here's some mean looking Bolsheviks getting drunk) and leaves a lot of stuff out entirely (we never see the Czar’s dreaded secret police in action--instead we get a talking head saying something like "the Czar was effective in breaking up rebellious influences").

Obviously the show isn't particularly kind to the communists, but it gets points for two big things. First, correctly portraying Nicholas as weak-willed, totally ineffective as a ruler, and too out of touch and wrapped-up in his own luxury to take actions that could have prevented the hungry wolves at his door. And secondly, not turning Yakov Yurovsky, the Bolshevik responsible for the execution of the royal family, into a slavering monster.

The most frustrating thing though is you can see how EITHER a scripted historical melodrama OR an in-depth documentary about the reign of the Last Czar could have been great.
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