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Mystery of the Last Tsar (Nicholas II) cover image

Mystery of the Last Tsar (Nicholas II) 1997

Not Recommended

Distributed by Chip Taylor Communications, 2 East View Drive, Derry, NH 03038-4812; 800-876-CHIP (2447)
Produced by Cymru Films, Inc.
Directed by Victoria Lewis
DVD, color, 80 min.

Jr. High - Adult
European Studies, History, Russia

Date Entered: 11/25/2008

Reviewed by Andrew Jenks, California State University, Long Beach

This is a documentary which suggests a mystery where none exists: the reign of Nicholas II, culminating in the execution of Nicholas and his family in July 1918. The supposed mystery is a rehash of that old Disney canard that Anastasia (daughter of the last Tsar) and perhaps other family members actually survived the brutal execution of Nicholas II and his family in the hometown of Boris Yeltsin (Ekaterinburg, later Sverdlovsk in the Soviet period and again renamed Ekaterinburg after the collapse of the Soviet Union). Despite the exhumation of remains, and despite decisive evidence from the archives, including the personal testimony of the executioner, the documentary takes seriously the claim of conspiracy theorists that the evidence is either fake or incomplete. It’s the tried and true tactic of a conspiracy theorist: the evidence is that there is no evidence. The conspirators destroyed it.

The attempt by the filmmaker to be “objective” by hearing all sides of the debate about the death of Nicholas II creates the impression that both sides are equally valid. But they are not—and to suggest otherwise is just bad history. Even worse, the documentary further obscures its topic by intermixing supposedly realistic reenactments of various scenes (Rasputin’s murder, the murder of the royal family) with actual footage from the archives. It does so without mentioning which scenes are real footage and which are simulations. The film interviews numerous talking heads, without identifying who they are. The effect on the uninitiated viewer is to suggest that these “experts” are all equally qualified to comment.

Finally, in addition to the peddling in needless mystifications, the documentary presents an incredibly skewed and unbalanced portrait of Nicholas II. It comes from one of the primary unidentified talking heads—the Russian writer of popular histories Edvard Radzinsky. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Radzinsky wrote a very popular biography of Nicholas II that answered to the new political conception of Nicholas II and his family as martyrs at the hands of the demonic Bolsheviks and Vladimir Lenin. The notion is as preposterous as the image of incarnate evil promoted by the Bolsheviks. Lenin was undoubtedly despicable, and his order to have Nicholas and his family butchered cannot be justified. But Nicholas II was no innocent, and the documentary ignores the very long list of shameful and idiotic things he did during his reign.

This video could be used as a case study in how not to do a documentary about Nicholas II. Besides, it is more than a decade old and since its filming more evidence has emerged that solidifies the already solid case that none of Tsar Nicholas II’s family escaped their executioners.