Russian TV heavy on lit classics

'First Circle,' 'Golden Calf' among adaptations to air soon

MOSCOW — Russian TV’s newfound fascination with literary drama adaptations continues with vet helmer Gleb Panfilov’s version of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “The First Circle,” heavily promoted in advance of its Sunday night bow on pubcaster Rossiya.

The 10-parter about Soviet scientists forced to work for the secret police in the final years of the Stalinist regime follows on from Rossiya’s late December ratings topper “Master and Margarita,” by Mikhail Bulgakov.

It will duplicate some of that serial’s promo tactics including opening with a double-length episode in primetime and radically reduced advertising breaks throughout.

“Circle” is the first Russian TV adaptation of the 1974 Nobel prize winner’s work. Solzhenitsyn collaborated on the script and also provides voice-over. A strong local cast is led by thesp Yevgeny Mironov.

The helmer first read the book in 1974. “The idea of a film came to me straightaway then,” he told local press this month, “but I said to myself it would be impossible — maybe only in 300 years.”

It’s not the only dissident-themed fare expected on pubcaster Rossiya, with director Nikolai Dostal (“Cloud Heaven”) in pre-production on a series about another Gulag writer, Valaam Shalamov. Both are commissioned by Rossiya’s director general Anton Zlatopolsky.

Continuing high-profile lit drama adaptations for the year, rival Channel One will open its version of Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov’s satiric “The Golden Calf” on Monday. “Calf,” helmed by Ulyana Shilkina, is topped by Oleg Menshikov, who’s also due later in the year on NTV in the title role in a version of Boris Pasternak’s “Dr. Zhivago” from helmer Alexander Proshkin.

With helmer Sergei Solovyev’s adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” due later in the season on Channel One, as well as Mikhail Lermontov’s “Hero of Our Time” and a double dose of Fyodor Dostoevsky with “The Brothers Karamazov” and “The Devils” in the works, 2006 looks like the year in which Russian auds will be heavily sated with screen adaptations of their classic fiction heritage.

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