The Last Czars

A scene in 'The Last Czars'. (Screengrab)
A scene in 'The Last Czars'. (Screengrab)


When social upheaval sweeps Russia in the early 20th century, Czar Nicholas II resists change, sparking a revolution and ending a dynasty.


I have to be honest, when I hear the names 'Romanov', 'Rasputin' and, of course, 'Anastasia' all I think of is the 1997 classic brought to the big screen by Fox Animation Studios. Who didn’t love Meg Ryan’s voice as the long lost youngest daughter of Nicholas II, the last Russian Czar – that’s what makes Netflix’s new docu-series, The Last Czar all the more captivating.

The 6-episode history saga that has been described as the "the Russian answer to The Crow" by many critics including Daily Beast’s Nick Schager is not only entertaining but greatly informative about the fall of Russia’s Romanov dynasty – a story people worldwide have been fascinated with for centuries.

The extravagant period piece had me hooked right from the start, even the intro gave me chills, with its stunning film locations and well, stunning cast – yes to all the beautiful bearded men. But beyond the bells and whistles of its charming dramatisation, The Last Czars appears to offer remarkably detailed history lessons given by historians of the Romanov period.

While details of what exactly happened during the reign of Nicholas II, from 1 November 1894 until his forced abdication on 15 March 1917 are obscure, The Last Czars offers a good enough retelling of the monumental tragedy that occurred in the early 20th century thanks to plain and simple stupidity.

It all starts when an unprepared 26-year-old Nicholas II (Robert Jack) inherits the throne from his father. What follows is a number of bad decisions made by the Czar – who was influenced mainly by his wife Alexandra (Susanna Herbert) and her closest confident Rasputin (Ben Cartwright) – that eventually lead to their brutal assassination in July 1918.

Top acting honour goes to Cartwright. The docuseries not only sheds light on the doomed Russian monarchy but also focusses on a vital element of how the Russian royal family lost support from the very people it ruled. Grigori Rasputin, dubbed the 'Mad Monk', was a peasant man who believed that sin was a necessary precursor to salvation. He won over the Empress of Russia’s affection when he successfully treated their only son and heir apparent Alexei, who was born with haemophilia. Cartwright’s depiction of Rasputin is fearless, ruthless and ungovernable, and he immediately convinces you to hate him yet be mesmerised by his ability to manipulate.

The rest of the cast, while aesthetically appealing, give good performances and are entertaining enough, however, there is one very big problem and that is the fact that they are everything but the very people they are portraying. There was a massive lack of authenticity and inconsistency in accents for me because of this. Yes, it is a dramatisation; however, if you are retelling the story of a Russian family and the Russian revolution, then should the content not then be presented in Russian.

If I am going to compare it to The Crown, the dramatisation section at least, then authenticity plays a massive role. The cast of The Crown are portraying the British monarchy and therefore appear to be British in the series.

In saying this I do understand that the Nutopia-produced docuseries is more appealing to the general public in a universal language and would not have been so successful had it been in a foreign language but that’s why subtitles were created and in all honesty – I would much rather have watched it and enjoyed it more with subtitles.

Aside from the two main plotlines (the dramatisation and the commentary), there is a sub-plot that tells the story how a former Romanov tutor (Oliver Dimsdale) investigates a woman who claimed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia. Anna Anderson (played by Indre Patkauskaite in The Last Czars) was the best known, and most convincing, an imposter claiming to be the heiress to the Romanov line, however, posthumous DNA evidence brought forward in the early 1990s, proved she was not the youngest daughter of the last Czar, according to TIME. While an exciting extension to the story, this sub-plot is hardly needed as there is more than enough between the professional commentary and the re-enacting to keep the viewers interested.

The Last Czars is beautifully filmed, informative and captivating. The jumps between fiction and commentary may be distracting at first, but is very much needed and integrated in a way that will leave you feeling satisfied with provided explanations for the drama you are watching. However, the lack of attention to detail may leave you disappointed.