The Last Czars is like Game of Thrones, but based on real-life royals
The Last Czars on Netflix is a beautifully crafted docuseries of chronological turning points in the fall of the Romanov dynasty in Russia. The country has made world headlines after their intervention in Syria, interference in US elections and in hosting the FIFA World Cup.
This trend has been echoed in pop culture with renewed interest in their history following TV series like HBO’s Chernobyl, documentaries like Werner Herzog’s Meeting Gorbachev, and now The Last Czars.
Nicholas’s ill-fated rule
The Last Czars is similar to the 2016-2019 series Roman Empire (S1-3 are on Netflix), part-documentary and part-historical epic, recounting the rise and fall of Nicholas Romanov. The last Emperor of all Russia, his ill-fated rule was shrouded in controversy, from his bloody coronation in 1894 to his forced abdication in 1917.
Hailing from the wealthy and powerful Romanov family, who had been in power for 300 years, Nicholas faced family pressure, rising social discontent from the people, fallout over Bloody Sunday, war against the Japanese and eventually World War I.
It’s “real” history, but with a Game of Thrones flavour
Presented in English with British accents as in Chernobyl, The Last Czars aims to connect with audiences on a human level, as Russian titles dissolve into English.
The docudrama has similar aspects and themes to popular series like Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones. The upstairs-downstairs clash takes place on a national level, set against the royal palace’s ornate design and untold wealth. A microcosm for drama, zooming into key moments in Nicholas Romanov’s rule, we get a fly-on-the-wall perspective of the royal family’s ongoing feuds, struggles and secrets.
Fans of Game of Thrones will find familiarity in the casting and the focus on competing factions as Rasputin’s growing influence causes dissent, Lenin captures the spirit of the people, and mishandled tragedies like Bloody Sunday undermine the Romanov’s autocracy.
Well-paced and running at 45 minutes per episode, it has a similar balance of coarse language, sex and violence to Game of Thrones. From consummating marriages to Rasputin’s hedonism, the drama has erotic tendencies, especially around the dark monk’s infamous sexual appetite. Then, while less frequent, unsettling violence and war footage also underpin the six-part series.
Documentary elements should be jarring, but instead add juicy, gossipy details
While these elements add shock value, the biggest surprise are the intermittent talking heads and historical footage. This documentary style is a curious variation for modern audiences who want a good balance of storytelling and infotainment. The exuberant historians add depth to the production, offering broader context to each interlude, at times dishing the juicy details as if it was a celebrity gossip show.
This is living history, which is entertaining as a costume period piece and illuminating as a historical documentary.
No shortage of pomp and pageantry: this is pre-World War I Russia, after all
The drama is handsomely mounted and sumptuous, giving you a real feel for the life-and-times thanks to exquisite pageantry and key performances.
It’s fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes of events leading to the establishment of Mother Russia’s modern government and see how Rasputin managed to get the ear of the Czarina.
The docudrama is drenched with enough intrigue to launch several TV and film spin-offs. Intermingling sexuality, religion, mysticism, politics and even medical science, The Last Czars presents an elegant and layered glimpse of Russia’s history ahead of the fall of the Romanov empire.