Thursday, August 28, 2014

Russia's Lost Princesses

Russia's Lost Princesses is a 2014 two part documentary on BBC Two on the four daughters of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia.

PART I: The Gilded Cage aired on August 21, 2014
PART II: The World Turned Upside Down aired on August 26, 2014

The Gilded Cage

The story of the last Grand Duchesses begin with the story of their mother, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia. She was born Princess Alix of Hesse and by the Rhine, the daughter of Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse and Princess Alice of the United Kingdom. When she was six years old, Alix lost her mother and her younger sister to diphtheria, forever changing Alix from a happy girl to a sombre child. At a young age, Alix met and fell in love with Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich of Russia. However, there were concerns about her suitability as Empress from Tsar Alexander III of Russia and Tsaritsa Maria Feodorovna. Not just for Alix but for Nicholas as well. Alexander died in 1894 and the pair were thrown head first into the pitfalls of Imperial rule. Alix's, now Alexandra Feodorovna, shy disposition made her unpopular at court, however, she was able to find consolation in the arms of her husband. The couple were entirely devoted to one another, preferring to live away at Tsarkoe Selo from the glaring eye of the court.

Alexandra had four daughters in quick succession: Olga (1895), Tatiana (1897), Maria (1899) and Anastasia (1901). As the matriarch of their growing family, Alexandra was determined to be a true mother to her children and raised them in the simple upbringing that she herself had experience. The girls grew up in a close knit family unit although each developed their own distinct personality. Olga was the sensitive one, Tatiana was the dutiful one, Maria was the kind one and Anastasia was the rambunctious one. However family life was marred due to the Imperial couple's lack of a son. On July 30, 1904, the splendid event occurred. A son, named Alexei, was born. Unfortunately, he had hemophilia, a blood related disease that he had inherited from his mother. For the family, life would revolve around little Alexei, who could be very spoiled at times.

To deal with Alexei's hemophilia, Alexandra began to rely on the faith healer, Gregory Rasputin. The mysterious man from Siberia came with a bad reputation as a womanizer and many rumors were spread about his relationship with the Tsaritsa and her four daughters. Alexandra was plagued with poor health and was often restricted to her wheel chair or bed. Rasputin became the girls' close contact. By the Romanov third centennial, Russia was already set for the revolution to unfold, something unbeknownst to the four Grand Duchesses.

The World Turned Upside Down

On the eve of the First World War, the four Russian Grand Duchesses begin to blossom into beautiful young women and for Olga and Tatiana love is in the air. The girls find their first crushes among the sailors on the Standart but as Princesses they must marry into their rank.  Nicholas and Alexandra see a prospective match in Prince Carol of Romania but Olga is quick to reject him. Just as the girls are about to enter the spring of their youth, World War One erupts. The elder girls take up work as nurses with their mother and it is during this time that they first come in contact with the outside world. Olga falls in love with one of the wounded soldiers and it was a sweet love that she carries with her until the end of her days.

As Russia enters the war, Alexandra's dependence on Rasputin become stronger. He is not only there for guidance on Alexei but now he begins to interfere in politics. Nicholas fires his uncle, Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich, and places himself at the head of the army, leaving Alexandra (and Rasputin) in charge. Public opinion against the Empress begins to mount. Rumors of Alexandra and her daughters' relationship with the mystic monk began to circulate Petrograd. The people begin to believe that she is a spy for Germany due to her birth. Even within the Romanov family, tensions begin to erupt. In 1916, Rasputin was murdered. The murder was committed by members of the Romanov family in what was the worst betrayal. They believe that this murder will bring the monarchy back from the edge but it is the final push. On March 15, 1917, Nicholas II abdicates for himself and for Alexei. All the girls except for Maria were ill with the measles so Alexandra didn't tell them until a weak later. Everything has changed.

Nicholas believed that with all of his family connections someone would be able to do something for him and his family. His cousin, George V, initially offered asylum to the family but quickly rescinded the offer. The family was to stay in Russia. The family was moved to Tobolsk where they remained isolated from the world. When the Communists took over, they were moved to Ekaterinburg. Things were becoming increasingly difficult. On July 17, 1918, Nicholas, Alexandra, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexei were murdered. They were shot and bayoneted. They bodies thrown in a mine shaft once it was over.

I give this two part documentary series 2/5. I'm really disappointed in this documentary series. The BBC is usually quite reliable in its quality of production and information but this was a total let down. It felt that it was just an image slideshow - something I'd expect out of a low quality History Channel (Sorry! But the proof is on Youtube) hour long documentary. There were also a lot of mistakes.They labelled a picture of Alexandra holding a baby as Olga when it was clearly Tatiana. Trust me, I'd know. Olga has those damn chubby cheeks. There was a really bad transition between Alix's youth when they showed a picture of her when she was twelve and then switched back to a picture of her when she was six. In short, not the greatest in production value.

Russia's Lost Princesses makes a lot of claims that I don't necessarily agree with. I really did not like how they portrayed Alexandra and Nicholas's parenthood - say what you will about Nicholas's rule, but he made a great husband to Alexandra and father to their five children. They accuse Alexandra of trying to manipulate her children on account of her health which I don't think is the right term for it. I mean you wouldn't call your mother manipulative if she had to go away for a little bit and told you to be good now would you? They say that Nicholas and Alexandra spoiled Alexei which is a tad true but what you have to understand is that EVERYONE spoiled Alexei. OTMA wasn't pushed aside by their parents, they actively took part in loving their little brother too. In my opinion, the show did not handle Rasputin's relationship with the royal family well. To fully understand Rasputin, you need to understand Alexandra's suffering as she watches her son dying before her eyes. The documentary doesn't cover that well enough because it's a documentary on OTMA but then it doesn't cover OTMA's relationship with the mystic monk very well either because they're focusing Alexandra so in the end, you don't get much information either way. There was way too much Nicholas and Alexandra, I bet you a dollar that after watching that film you don't come away with any new information on the four sisters other than they were girls. And the only thing girls care about are boys.

The shows biggest problem is that for a documentary titled Russia's Lost Princesses, it's focus is primarily Nicholas and Alexandra. Filled with many ridiculous claims and poorly presented, I say give this one a pass. From what I've seen, Helen Rappaport has nothing to be proud about.