A Gentleman In Moscow Review

A Gentleman In Moscow
In post-Revolutionary Russia, Count Alexander Rostov (Ewan McGregor) is stripped of his title and sentenced to house arrest in the historic Metropol Hotel. There, as the decades wear on, the former aristocrat forges new connections with a beguiling cast of rotating staff and guests who become integral to his life.

by David Opie |
Published on

Streaming on: Paramount+

Episodes viewed: 8 of 8

A title like A Gentleman In Moscow might suggest a certain type of show: a Cold War-era spot of espionage, or a Michael Palin-esque travelogue, perhaps. But the emphasis here is very much on the former over the latter; don’t expect the streets of Russia's capital to figure in this particular story. Instead, Paramount's latest period drama, based on Amor Towles' 2016 historical fiction novel, takes place nearly entirely within the walls of the city’s grand Metropol Hotel, leaving the main focus of this show on the titular ‘Gentleman’.

A Gentleman In Moscow

This is, first and foremost, the story of Count Alexander Rostov. An aristocrat forced to languish in the world's most opulent prison, he could have been a rather unsympathetic figure, but Ewan McGregor’s magnetic performance doesn't give you even a second to consider that. Showrunner Ben Vanstone has struck gold with a lead as talented and charming as McGregor, rarely on finer form than he is here. Tonally, the show is a big ask, blending bleak historical realism with cosy Sunday-night-style viewing, but McGregor balances these shifts with natural ease.

It’s Ewan McGregor’s Count who makes the show worth watching

Even when very little is happening — an issue in the first half of the series, particularly — you're drawn in anyway, whether Rostov is twirling his extravagant moustache or interacting with an eccentric supporting cast who are vastly more fleshed-out here than they were in the book. That's especially true of Anna Urbanova (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and it's wistful characters like her who make the show more compelling, if a tad unrealistic.

Which is not to say it ignores the history happening outside the hotel, with everything from the bloodstained remnants of post-Tsarist Russia to Stalinist propaganda creeping in from the outside, as visitors regale the former Count with stories of a world beyond his own, a world he's now lost for good. (Or has he?)

That storybook tone is enhanced even further through stunning costumes and production design that play an essential role. It's the Count who holds all this together though, as the Russia he knew shifts and collapses around him. Even when the story occasionally meanders into something verging on too sentimental, it’s McGregor’s Count who makes the show worth watching.

Viewers willing to stick with the show's gentlemanly pace and occasionally mawkish sincerity will be rewarded with heart-warming, old-fashioned storytelling — anchored by Ewan McGregor's finest performance in years.
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