Production uses rare film footage and family photos, its chief asset. Seems the imperial family -- the tsar, the tsarina, their four daughters and the prince -- enchanted with the camera, took charming snapshots among themselves that heretofore have been locked away in government archives. And there are home movies, a 100-year-old film of Nicholas' coronation procession, scenes of the royals summering at the Black Sea and one of Anastasia photographing herself in a mirror.

Production uses rare film footage and family photos, its chief asset. Seems the imperial family — the tsar, the tsarina, their four daughters and the prince — enchanted with the camera, took charming snapshots among themselves that heretofore have been locked away in government archives. And there are home movies, a 100-year-old film of Nicholas’ coronation procession, scenes of the royals summering at the Black Sea and one of Anastasia photographing herself in a mirror.

TX:Voices: Rene Auberjonois, Carolyn Seymour, Brian Cummings, Richard Doyle, Mark Gregory, Tony Jay. TX: TX:Filmed by National Geographic TV Inc. Executive producer, Nicolas Noxon; senior producer, Teresa Koenig; series supervising producer, Barry Nye; producer-director, Robert Kenner; writer, Kage Kleiner; story, Kenner, Cynthia Lazaroff, Kathryn Pasternak; There’s brief testimony, from royalty and commoners, and shots of Alexander Palace, where the family lived less formally than in the St. Petersburg Palace. Rene Auberjonois provides the voice for the weak and unaware, if sincere, tsar, who believed until the end that the people loved him. Carolyn Seymour speaks for the unhappy Alexandra, who suffered enormously over her son’s hemophilia; advent of the monk Rasputin is her only solace because he seems able to help Prince Alexi.

The tsar’s described as a loving family man, shy and terrible at small talk, but he’s not described as an autocrat whose father had instilled the idea of total power in him. The tsar-to-be’s childhood gets too little attention, as does that of German-born Alexandra. As for Nicholas’ parents and ancestors, the Romanovs are all but snubbed, though there is mention that Nicholas was less competent and informed than his predecessors. The docu tells of his going to the battle front to take command when the war with Germany and Austria goes awry, and reports on his abdication in a railroad car on the Western Front.

First real sign of the future hits with a seg depicting the 1905 Bloody Sunday when the people, seeking peaceful redress, are shot at by the tsar’s troops. And, on the other hand, there’s a fine portion devoted to the dedicated Cossacks, whom the Germans rightfully feared so much; the Cossacks, who toast Nicholas II to this day, still await the return of the monarchy.

Included are clips from features “The Last Days of the Tsar,””Prologue” and “War and Peace,” though program doesn’t specify which version of the latter. Some re-enactments have been used, and “certain historical sequences,” undefined , have been covered by “generic historical footage.”

Whole docu seems pointed in one direction: the murders in that Yaketerinburg basement. Nothing’s said of the latter-day self-proclaimed Anastasia, or of the servants who perished with the Romanovs.

There are scenes of Russian people in the 1990s calling for the monarchy’s return — with no attempt to identify who would now sit upon the throne. Otherwise, though handsomely produced, “The Last Tsar” provides little upon which to chew. This edition of National Geographic plays like a rerun — or like a copy that has been in the dentist’s waiting room far too long.

National Geographic Special Russia's Last Tsar

Production

National Geographic Special RUSSIA'S LAST TSAR (Wed. (6), 8-9 p.m., NBC)

Crew

Camera, Don Lenzer; editors, Nye, Leonard Feinstein; sound, Peter Hliddal; music, Mark Adler.

With

Narrator: Jeremy Irons. National Geographic trots out the well-known story of Tsar Nicholas II and Alexandra with little insight. Already documentarized and endlessly dramatized -- even Ethel, John and Lionel Barrymore took a feature whack at in the 1932 "Rasputin and the Empress"-- the dramatic tale still has impact -- but familiarity has begun to dilute the grim story.
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