An HBO-produced movie with big-screen ambitions, RASPUTIN is an extravagantly produced biopic depicting the life of the debauched mystic who was assassinated on the eve of the Russian Revolution. A wild-eyed Alan Rickman won the Best Actor Emmy with his appropriately maniacal
In 1883 Siberia, a young Rasputin exhibits his mind-reading talents for his fellow peasants. Twenty years later, the mystic is beaten for failing to live up to his psychic reputation. He lies bleeding on the open tundra when his gaze up at the sun is met with a divine vision. Imbued with the
spirit of the Virgin Mary, Rasputin heads to St. Petersburg, the seat of Imperial Russia.
Via hypnosis, this slovenly creature convinces a Bishop (Peter Jeffrey) of his powers and soon after, he's summoned by Czarina Alexandra (Greta Scacchi). Her hemophiliac son, Alexei (Freddy Findlay), heir to the throne, is dying, and Rasputin is her last hope. The Mad Monk eases the boy into a
trance and assumes his pain with mystical rants. Then, miraculously, Alexei can walk! But Czar Nicholas (Ian McKellen) doesn't believe in Rasputin's powers and, repulsed by his crude behavior, Nicholas overrides his wife and kicks the charlatan out.
Once again, Alexei gets sick, and Rasputin is called away from his whoring to work his magic. Triumphant and apparently in the good graces of Nicholas, Rasputin reels around the palace, seducing the blue bloods and announcing: "Although the soul may belong to God, the flesh belongs to us."
Embarrassed, Nicholas expels Rasputin, but his son becomes ill again. Once more, Rasputin proves his touch, and finally Nicholas agrees to grant Rasputin a permanent place in his court.
As revolutionaries riot in the streets, WWI explodes and the corpses mount. Nicholas goes to the front, leaving domestic affairs to Alexandra, the Mad Monk at her side. A royalist faction is sickened by Rasputin's growing power and plot his death. The drunken mystic is fed cyanide-laced cakes by
the plotters. The consumption of only one is supposed to be lethal, but he eats three with no effect. The plotters then ply him with poisoned wine. Nothing. They shoot him in the chest and though he's at first declared dead, he leaps up and runs away. Finally, he's tracked down and shot to death.
Earlier, Rasputin had foretold the deaths of the Romanovs within two years of his own assassination. The prophecy comes true when Nicholas, Alexandra, and their children are executed by the Bolsheviks.
With his intense stares, Rickman's Rasputin is a hypnotic character who mixes religious fervor with mischievous abandon. The movie is at its best when it lets Rickman revel in his character's irreverence. It's irresistible fun to watch him sit at the dinner table with the perfectly mannered royal
family, eating with his hands and telling stories of sodomizing monks. Or to watch him convince a noblewoman that the only way to regain her faith is to sleep with him.
Unfortunately, lost in its finely rendered period decor, RASPUTIN is often too demure for its own good. It conveys the impression that this is an important period film that must have a certain air of propriety, even though it's about one of the world's great hedonists. Perhaps director Uli Edel
should have stolen a page or two from Fellini.
But with all its historical import, the script fails to show the extent of Rasputin's power over Russian policy. Inaccuracies abound. Writer Peter Pruce has Stolypin (John Wood), the Czar's prime minister, taking part in the plot to kill Rasputin. This despite the fact that the real-life Stolypin
met his end in 1911, five years before Rasputin was poisoned and shot. If history is wanted, read a good book; but for a bravura performance, see RASPUTIN. (Violence, sexual situations.)
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- Released: 1996
- Rating: R
- Review: An HBO-produced movie with big-screen ambitions, RASPUTIN is an extravagantly produced biopic depicting the life of the debauched mystic who was assassinated on the eve of the Russian Revolution. A wild-eyed Alan Rickman won the Best Actor Emmy with his ap… (more)