At first glance, Netflix’s new series, The Last Czars, appears to be your typical Hollywood retelling of events that happened a long time ago. But the show, which chronicles the fall of the Romanov dynasty in Russia, isn’t like the historical dramas you’re used to.
Here’s what you need to know about The Last Czars before binge watching Season 1.
Is The Last Czars a documentary?
"This is about 80 percent drama, 20 percent documentary," actress Susanna Herbert, who plays Empress Alexandra on the six-part miniseries, told Harper’s Bazaar UK. The inventive project is a mix between scripted sequences and interviews with Romanov experts.
"It's a pretty new style because it's a really high-quality production, and epic in scale, yet you also get the additional benefit of hearing from world-class historians to explain some of the context behind the scenes," Susanna revealed.
For example, the author of a recent Rasputin biography, Douglas Smith, shows up 13 minutes into Episode 1 as the audience is first introduced to the infamous Russian mystic.
"Rasputin is probably one of the most remarkable figures of the 20th century," the historian shares. "But his background is sort of shrouded in mist and legend."
Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of "The Romanovs," talks about the opulence of a Russian czar’s coronation as we watch Nicholas II, played by Robert Jack, and Alexandra crowned emperor and empress.
"The cost was extraordinary. The rituals were complex and ancient," he explains. "Everything was designed to project wealth, power, and the glory of the dynasty."
The cast of The Last Czars is made up mostly of Brits.
Though the show depicts Russian history, all the actors speak with an English accent. Alongside Susanna’s Alexandra and Robert’s Nicholas is Ben Cartwright’s Rasputin, a man who is misunderstood, according to the actor.
"He was a drinker, and a womanizer, and a bit of a nonconformist, and a free spirit — this is all the reasons why I love him [sic]," Ben admitted in a recent interview.
Susanna noted that with characters like this, The Last Czars is far from a "reserved" period drama. "It's really raw and really brutal, and it shines a light on the less attractive qualities of some of the individuals, but those qualities are the ones that make them human," she said.
"The dramatic scenes are about human struggle and conflict. It's certainly not done in a reconstruction that you've ever seen before."
Reviews for The Last Czars: Do critics like it?
So far, opinions have been mixed. Ed Power from The Telegraph gave the show a 4 out of 5, writing, "It's all completely formulaic… But it is also delivered with top-rate razzle-dazzle."
But one viewer only gave the series half a star on Rotten Tomatoes. "The docu-drama was a distorted way of re-telling a great story, the flipping back and forth lost points every time," the individual, who goes by Kat P, said.
"A drama series would have [prevailed] much stronger in the end and would keep the audience in the moment of the history," she added.
Stream all six episodes of The Last Czars on Netflix now.