I Have Many Questions About Netflix’s ‘The Last Czars’

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I knew I was going to need to watch Netflix’s docu-drama, The Last Czars (2019), about Russian Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, and their five children/the end of the Romanov dynasty, when I read Jezebel’s review, titled, “The Last Czars: What If You Crossed the History Channel with Cinemax?” This sucker starts off with the funeral of Tsar Alexander III, rotting in his coffin, in 1896 1894, and takes off running through the Russian Revolution in 1917. Of course, I had a lot of questions while I was watching, as I am wont to do, so I thought maybe you could help me?

Note: spoilers galore! (Of course, there are no spoilers in history…)

 

Why is The Last Czars framed around Anastasia, when we know she died with her family?

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Anna Anderson.

Okay, okay, so it’s one of those legendary mysteries that can still hook audiences (see: the animated movie, and the Broadway musical that’s just getting under way based on it). And sure, I was pretty obsessed with this same mystery when I was a kid! But people, THEY’VE DONE DNA TESTING. ON ALL THE BODIES. ALL OF WHICH HAVE BEEN FOUND. So don’t leave us with the French tutor telling us via cheesy voiceover narration that he’s decided she’s not the real Anastasia. How about, I don’t know, ONE OF YOUR TALKING-HEAD HISTORIANS ACTUALLY POP IN AND REMIND US ABOUT THE DNA?? (See my review of Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna for more).

 

Why is Rasputin relatively clean?

First, let’s all listen to Sarah’s favorite, “Rasputin” by Boney M, so you can join me in the ear worm:

I know Rasputin is that conundrum of a guy who’s completely repulsive until you meet him and are drawn in personally, but I wasn’t buying this guy. Jezebel calls him a low-rent Gerard Butler, and I feel like that does low-rent a disservice.

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Side-eye him, Alexandra. I sure am.

Speaking of Rasputin…

 

Wouldn’t Peasant Dad notice if you were shagging his daughter in the same room?

So Rasputin shows up at some rando peasant house and asks to stay the night, making eyes at Peasant Daughter. Cut to night, she’s sleeping on the floor of what looks like the main room, and so is Rasputin, a couple feet away. A few more hot glances and she’s in bed with Raspy while he fingers her. There’s no way the two of them would be left to sleep in the same room, opposite sides of the room or not. Where’s Peasant Dad with an axe when you need him?

 

Why don’t the adult actors age?

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She bathes in the blood of virgins?

Here’s Nicholas and Alexandra getting engaged in 1894:

Engagement official picture of Tsar Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, April 1894, via Wikimedia Commons.

Engagement official picture of Tsar Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, April 1894, via Wikimedia Commons.

And here’s Nicholas c. 1914:

Emperor Nicholas II with his daughter Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna of Russia in 1914 via Wikimedia Commons

Emperor Nicholas II with his daughter Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna of Russia in 1914 via Wikimedia Commons

And Alexandra c. 1911:

Tsarina Alexandra and Tsarevich Alexei in a stateroom aboard the Imperial Yacht Standart, c. 1911, Beinecke Library

Tsarina Alexandra and Tsarevich Alexei in a stateroom aboard the Imperial Yacht Standart, c. 1911, Beinecke Library

It makes it REALLY HARD to believe your lead couple is incapable of having more children when they look as fresh-faced as they did on their wedding day. Ya can’t throw a little frost at the temples??

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It’s 1917ish, not a grey hair in sight!

 

Why is that one historian so excited?

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Dr. Pablo de Orellana, Lecturer in International Relations, Department of War Studies, King’s College London

Okay, so I’d be stoked too if I was asked to talk about a nerdy historical subject in a documentary. But I still enjoyed watching his eyebrows dance!

 

Why isn’t this just straight drama instead of a docu-drama?

Probably this show’s biggest flaw is that it’s not sure if what it wants to be. In some ways, I enjoyed adding the documentary aspect to the drama — productions like this always have a “show, don’t tell” problem, so instead of having your scriptwriters try to find an awkward way to convey the way things were received, having an expert TELL me was refreshing! However, they don’t introduce the historians until way too late — I thought maybe I had misread and it was indeed straight drama until 15-20 minutes in. And then they don’t contextualize certain things, especially the vintage film footage — I really wanted to know if I was seeing footage of the real event or just something that looked like it. And, of course, it’s really weird to go from a serious discussion of Russian politics to Rasputin getting a blow job.

 

Why is Empress Alexandra wearing an 1870s bustle gown to her coronation party in 1896?

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It’s pretty! It’s just at least 10 years too early!

Nicholas and Alexandra — married and crowned: 1894. If I were being generous, I’d say that’s a late 1880s bustle gown, but it’s really 1870s given the soft floofy back (1880s bustles were super angular). 1890s was all about big puffy sleeves and full, A-line skirts. Not bustles.

1870s vs 1880s vs 1894

The costumes for this sucker were designed by Barbara Elum-Baldres, who has designed various productions I’ve never heard of and worked as costume assistant on Alice Through the Looking Glass. She told Broadcastnow.co.uk,

As costume designer, the most important technical challenge was to be loyal to the story of the last Romanovs and bring the fantasy and romanticism that surrounded this family to life, as authentically as possible.

I was inspired by Russian folklore and the European fashion of the time. I managed to get a great deal with one of the best costume houses in Madrid, which let me alter dresses that had previously been used in drama set in the same period.

This allowed me to recreate the Russian court dresses, which are really specific – in particular, Alexandra Romanov’s wedding dress.

I took a copy of a 17th-century dress, altered the corset, added an extra skirt and created new sleeves.

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I’m pretty sure Alexandra’s wedding dress (right) is that 17th-century dress?

The biggest challenge was finding fabric from the period. One day, one of my assistants showed me a picture of her living room in Vilnius. Her curtains were exactly the right fabric and colour for the task. I convinced her to sell them to me and we were able to complete Alexandra’s dress.

After that, I realised buying bed linen and curtains from Vilnius and Madrid was a great way to get more metres for my budget and I was able to recreate a lot of dresses that way.

We also altered clothes from flea markets, which worked perfectly for Russian peasant skirts and heavy knit pieces for the town revolutionaries.

One of my favourite dresses was for Alexandra: a cream and green early Edwardian dress that we created using a 1970s dressing gown found in a car boot sale.

I really want to figure out which dress was originally 1970s! Because I saw some suspiciously polyester-y dresses on Alexandra…

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Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna and hubby Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich look spiffy and 1890s.

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Alexandra’s court dress has the right sleeves.

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More of Alexandra’s wedding dress.

 

Where do I know the Empress Maria Feodorvna from?

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Or “Minnie,” as the show calls her.

Am I the only one who spends most movies/TV shows asking myself “WHERE DO I KNOW HIM/HER FROM??!!” That’s Bernice Stegers, who has been in many many productions including The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietySuite FrançaiseGreat ExpectationsTipping the Velvet, and Quartet.

 

If you’re going to do the full horror of the assassination, why not do it as it actually happened?

2019 The Last Czars

I’ll give them this, this show did one of the better portrayals of the actual assassination in that they tried to show the real horror. But they bungled the specifics. All the guards shot at Nicholas instead of anyone else, wanting the honor of having killed the tsar, which meant the rest of his family DID watch him die (but not quite as shown on screen here). Then, the guards shot at everyone, and the room filled up with debris and smoke. Once THAT cleared, they found the daughters were totally uninjured, screaming and crouching against the wall. They shot them repeatedly, then had to bludgeon them to death because of the jewels sewn into the clothes. Nicholas II was 1000% an inept ruler, but he wasn’t evil, so I’m glad they at least attempted to show how horrific this assassination was. But why not do it right, if you’re gonna do it?

 

Did I need to see Empress Alexandra’s nipple in close-up?

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I am sparing you said close up. You’re welcome.

This is probably the central question that will have me forever awake at night, eyes wide open in terror. We here at Frock Flicks are down with the sexytimes. But, let’s keep those sexytimes to people who you can relatively picture as sexual beings. Yes, Nicholas and Alexandra were a love match. And I can even handle them shagging (although not, dear god, butt naked on the dining room floor; although, nice ass Nicki!). BUT I DO NOT NEED TO SEE (the actress playing, but still) EMPRESS ALEXANDRA’S NIPPLE IN CLOSE UP.

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We’re all waiting for the dining room shagging to end, trust me.

 

Have you watched the crazy that is The Last Czars yet?

53 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    Alexandrer III died in 1894. More later as I didn’t realize that it was as late as it is and I’m leaving for work.

    Reply
  2. Roxana

    Nicky and Alix had a passionate sex life right to the bitter end but they had a bedroom for that sort of thing thank you very much. Alix was Queen Victoria’s granddaughter!

    Reply
  3. Aimee

    God it was so inaccurate that it hurts. The (totally untrue) scene of Maria and the guard was vile.

    Reply
  4. Bronwyn

    I watched it too, for some reason. Not great, not terrible. :/

    Roman Empire is like this too! So much dramatized stuff and things changed unnecessarily.

    Reply
  5. Elizabeth Kerri Mahon

    I only watched 2 episodes. The scene of them shagging on the rug was just a bit much. And the musical Anastasia (based on the animated film) closed on Broadway actually. And it was awful! They cut Rasputin and added a new villain who was in love with Anastasia but it was just boring. Part of the fun of the animated film was Zombie Rasputin and Bartok the bat.

    Reply
  6. Adina

    They also left out all of Alexandra’s health problems, and even though they pulled in the whole Anna Anderson myth, the actual history part of it just kept harping on Alexei the same way most other documentaries about the family have. They didn’t give any time to the sisters in which to explain that Olga and Tatiana at least did seem to have a thing for military men.

    I was ranting over the phone to my mom about this show when I watched it.

    Reply
    • Aleko

      I’m thinking it wasn’t so much that the sisters had a thing for military men, so much as that the only young men they had much contact with were soldiers: the Tsar’s and Grand Dukes’ ADCs, the officers of the Imperial escort and palace guards, etc, plus, in wartime, the officer patients in the hospitals where they nursed. On account of the obsessive secrecy required to keep Alexei’s haemophilia becoming publicly known, they just weren’t allowed to mix with aristocratic society in general, and just didn’t meet any non-military young men.

      Reply
  7. Frannie Germeshausen

    Well, it was clunky but it got me through 4 hours of steaming vintage table linens. Yes, I have a tablecloth problem. And, of course, knowing damn well about the DNA made the framing silly. And Rasputin’s bad sticky-outie wig. And the not aging thing (yeah, just pop out a non-defective heir already!) . . .

    Reply
    • SarahV

      I’m transfixed. I vaguely remember my mom and her drunken friends doing some disco-tango group dance to this at some late 70’s drunken block party.

      (this and “Fly Robin, Fly”)

      Reply
  8. Brandy Loutherback

    Also, Why is Alix Fucking blonde? I have nothing against pretty blonde actresses, but Alix was a brunette FFS! Could they really not have found a brunette Russian/ German actress?

    Reply
  9. Brandy Loutherback

    The last of the Romanov dynasty fascinates me endlessly! That’s why I’m writing two biographical fiction novels based on Tsarina Alexandra and her 5 children.

    Reply
  10. Charity

    I watched half an hour of this. The juxtaposition of graphic nude sex scenes beneath historical narration was just WEIRD. Either be a documentary without sex scenes, or be a smutty television series without historian voice-overs.

    Reply
    • Overhire

      This. The first time they introduced historical documentary narration over the sex scenes and I just noped outta there. I also checked the Lover’s Knot tiara but couldn’t remember where it came from so just assumed it originated in Russia. Or a modern knockoff workshop. Shrug.

      Reply
  11. Sarah Lorraine

    RA RA RASPUTIN LOVER OF THE RUSSIAN QUEEN THERE WAS A CAT WHO REALLY WAS GONE RA RA RASPUTIN RUSSIA’S GREATEST LOVE MACHINE IT WAS A SHAME HOW HE CARRIED ON

    swishes sequined cape

    Reply
  12. Andrew Schroeder

    Netflix keeps pushing this on me and I’ve avoided it because the costumes looked shitty in the preview and the actor playing Nicholas is too hot to be believable, but I guess he has a nice butt so that’s cool.

    Reply
  13. Allison

    I love reading about the Romanovs, so I was intrigued when this series was announced, but I couldn’t even get through the first episode. Doesn’t look I missed anything by bailing out early.

    Reply
  14. Susan Pola Staples

    The costumes were off. There are two Court Gowns at the State Hermitage that based on Alix’s sketches in a letter to her grandmother, Queen Victoria, that could be the gown. Her coronation robes and gown are in the Kremlin Armoury. Both, er, all three can be found on Pinterest and their digital websites.

    Also jewellery sucked. There’s a special necklace, tiara, and earrings that each bride of the Tsarevitch wore at her wedding.

    Reply
  15. Nzie

    Thank you for biting this bullet for me. I can expect to get asked about various things, so this will help me explain why it’s not on my watch list.

    Reply
  16. Nzie

    Also, what the heck with the dining room floor thing? I don’t really care to see anyone’s backside, but mainly it told me a lot about the mindset of the production, and that’s why I was in no hurry.

    Reply
  17. Bea

    sigh
    honestly, after Rickman, who else even DARES to play Rasputin without knowing they’re going to suck?

    Reply
  18. Susan Pola Staples

    Totally like true (sorry I’ve beenreading about the third Bill and Ted movie). Rickman rocks as Rasputin.
    I couldn’t finish this as it was 1 million times worse than Mathilde. Are you saying that Raspy had sex with Alix? Never happened. He was wise enough to realise his power seemed from ‘curing’ Alexsei.
    Alexsei was the only son after ten years of marriage. And Alix was a haemophilia carrier so if she and Nicholas has another son, there was a 50-50 chance he’d have haemophilia too.

    Reply
  19. Ben

    Ha- we had a lot of those too, which is why we did an episode on the series and what it got wrong and right (we actually talked about why people are so fascinated w/ Anastasia). One of our guests is Philippa Hetherington, who is one of the historians featured in the series. You can check it out here. http://www.theroadtonow.com/episodes/e141

    Reply
  20. SamIAm

    This series was infuriating because it spent ages on minor crap but flew through the stuff that explained things.

    Also, I was not upset when Uncle Sergei bit it. That man was an idiot but then again, none of the Romanovs were very bright. The show boiled that all the way down to the simplest terms.

    How do you abdicate an entire throne, costing a country an entire monarchy and then not GTFO?

    Reply
    • Kendra

      Yeah, the problem is they never want to explain the politics and social context enough. I’m not asking them to beat us over the head with it, but enough so things make sense would be nice.

      Reply
      • Mary

        The political regime in Russia has not changed since the last Romanovs were killed. Only the faces of the Chekists and Communists have changed. Even assuming that Anna Anderson was a real Anastasia, no one would officially recognize her.

        Who did the official DNA testing? Who and where found the last two bodies in 2007? And what do you say about the fact that the DNA of the found corpses does not coincide with the blood of Nicholas II on a piece of bandage stored in Japan since the time of the a failed assassination in Otsu (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ōtsu_incident)?

        Now the last Romanovs have been declared as saints, icons with their faces have been drawn and the country makes money from vulnerable tourists who came to Russia after watching such films. Real investigations of this murder are not profitable for the contemporary political regime.

        Reply
  21. kate

    I liked this mini series. Sexual scenes and the faces of experts behind the scenes at least slightly diluted the dreary plot line, when you know for sure that there will be no happy end.

    Reply

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