Assassin of the Tsar Review

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Arriving at a new hospital a Psychiatrist is shocked and excited to meet a severe schizophrenic who believes he is an assassin of a Russian Tsar in 1881 as well as the organiser of the slaughter of the Russian Royal family in 1918. The psychiatrist tries several ways of connecting with his patient to discover the root of his illness.


Dr. Smirnov (Yankovsky), newly installed head of a Moscow psychiatric hospital, becomes intrigued by Timofeyev (McDowell), the institution's star nutcase, who suffers from the delusion that he is two different historical characters, the assassin of Tsar Alexander II, who tossed a bomb in 1881, and Yurovsky, the Soviet official who presided over the murders of Alexander's grandson, Nicholas II, and the entire Russian Royal family, in 1918. Smirnov is perplexed by the patient's bizarre ability to manifest symptoms that appear to relate to the fates of the assassins.

In order to understand Timofeyev's delusions and, with luck, effect a cure, Smirnov becomes submerged in the personality of Tsar Nicholas, and enters into a strange dialogue with Yurovsky, during which the story of the murders unfolds from the perspectives of both the doomed Royals and the revolutionaries. This international co-production benefits from the subtle and complex performance of McDowell in the multiple title roles. Less obviously showy but equally effective is Yankovsky, taking the twin roles of Tsar and doctor, and conveying the well-intentioned but essentially shallow thinking that leads one to death by assassination and the other to an equally grim, ironic fate.

With a more accurate recreation of its historical core than has been seen on screen in Nicholas And Alexandra or the various Rasputin movies, this is both a compelling modern psychodrama and a powerful recreation of one of the pivotal events of modern history, addressing Russian history and the current turbulent state of the country in an effective and compelling manner.

Managing to mix Russian fact and fiction is no mean feat, yet the writes have managed it perfectly, with McDowell giving a convincing performance as a mad man and Yankovsky helping him through his ordeal. Exciting, thrilling and dramatic, this remains a classic.