Reviewer: Shannon H.
Russian history has been rich, fascinating, and
sometimes questionable. It has had its good moments with
Peter the Great introducing Russia to Western society
and its bad moments with 72 years of Communism. Of
course, when one mentions Russian history who can forget
the Romanov dynasty, a royal family that ruled Russia
for over three centuries and ending in 1917 with the
Russian Revolution and the rise of Communism. The
Romanov family at the time was Tzar Nicholas II, his
wife Alexandra, and their five children. They were once
secure and powerful in their many palaces and homes but
when revolution erupted, they became mere citizens with
a grim future.
The story centers around Gregory Rasputin (Alan Rickman), the so-called holy man who claims he has mystical, spiritual powers given to him by God. Most people dismiss him as a crazy transient but he soon gains the trust and respect of a Russian Orthodox priest who believes him. Rasputin is taken to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia where he is introduced to Nicholas (Ian McKellen) and his wife Alexandra (Greta Scacchi), who are busy praying for their little son, Alexei. The poor lad is bedridden with an attack of hemophilia, a hereditary disease that affects only males (hemophilia prevents blood from clotting properly so cuts and bruises could prove fatal). The genetic disease does not affect females and has existed in the royal family due to inbreeding. At first Nicholas is indifferent to this crazy guy being in a room with his wife and son, but allows him to stay at Alexandra's insistence.
Rasputin works his "magic" by chanting and praying and soon Alexei's blood stops flowing and his life is saved. Alexandra thanks Rasputin profusely and giving thanks to God for bringing a holy man to save her son's life. Nicholas also thanks Rasputin (under his breath as he's still suspicious of him). The next morning Alexei is seen standing at the window, completely alive and well. At that point Rasputin is considered a welcomed guest in the Romanov household. However, his image as a saint becomes questionable as he spends time getting drunk and sleeping with prostitutes (Rasputin believed that in order to obtain salvation and closeness with God, one has to sin, which is contradictory to Biblical Law). His reputation as a ladies' man and debaucher get around quickly and flyers start circulating around Russia depicting Rasputin, the Tzar, and his wife in a political cartoon.
Since Rasputin is seen frequenting the Winter Palace to save Alexei from bruises, nosebleeds, and cuts, some Russian people start believing that he might be sleeping with the Tzar's wife and their four daughters. The Russian royal family refuses to admit as to why Rasputin visits with them in the first place. They don't want the Russian general public to believe that the heir to the Russian throne has a fatal illness for fear they might be seen as weak. After an incident causing some witnesses to believe that Rasputin was carrying on an affair with the Tzarina, Nicholas has finally had enough. He rids his home of the unwanted guest and starts to concentrate on Russia's part in the first World War. When Rasputin left the Romanov household for good, he made a "prophetic" prediction. If he is murdered by commoners, the Romanovs will stay in power. If he is murdered by members of the royal family, the Tzar and his family will face a terrible demise.
The objectionable content truly merits an R rating. The violence is moderate but the quality of it is quite disturbing. While Nicholas is attending an opera with his oldest daughter and some government officials, a lone assassin kills the prime minister with a single gunshot. The Romanov family meet their gruesome demise in a shootout by Communist thugs. Rasputin is shot at several times by Felix and his friends. There are old clips of Russian soldiers in battle during WWI, and some disturbing scenes that are not violent but do contain blood. Alexei is seen in bed a few times, twice with a nosebleed that won't go away. The sexual content is also moderate (most of it involves Rasputin; no surprise there). Nicholas and his wife are seen giving "love pecks" on each other's faces. Alexandra starts undoing her husband's shirt collar while he does the same with her robe (her bare shoulder is seen and the shot breaks away quickly. Nothing else happens but it is implied that they made love).
Rasputin is seen hanging out with a prostitute and later he is glimpsed in bed with her (we only see his bare chest and shoulders; the prostitute is wearing a corset and undergarments). Rasputin is also shown having sex with a close relative of Alexandra, leaving some witnesses to believe that he's sleeping with the Tzar's wife; both of them are clothed during the act. In a bar joking with friends, Rasputin drunkenly dances suggestively with one of the bar girls and in the same scene exposes himself to Felix Yusupov (who is angry at Rasputin's drunken antics). Fortunately, nothing is shown. This film is a much more accurate but objectionable version of Nicholas and Alexandra. It's shorter, too but I'd much rather sit and watch two full video cassettes of that mediocre 1971 period piece than Rasputin. I used to watch it a lot before I was saved. Now that I know better, I refuse to watch it anymore.
It's a good movie but it still needs work on the script and the dialogue. Spiritually speaking, it's a mess -- and that's an understatement. Rasputin's idea of salvation is contradictory with the Bible. Sinning only brings us further away from God and the only way to have a relationship with Him is to accept Christ. His hedonistic lifestyle only brings him further away from true, spiritual fulfillment. Nicholas and his family pray on a regular basis, which is good, but Alexandra believes that God punished her by giving her son Alexei hemophilia. This is not true. God does not punish people with disease and disasters anymore (that was back in the Old Testament) because of Christ's Resurrection and ascension into Heaven. I would not advise any Christian to see this. It's a great movie but is bogged down by excess sexual content. Plus, it also might "traumatize" any fans of the Harry Potter movies by seeing Professor Snape as a drunken lunatic.