A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow
A Gentleman in Moscow
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Based on Amor Towles’ critically acclaimed novel by the same name, Showtime’s next great historical drama is A Gentleman in Moscow. While the use of “Moscow” in the title might make one imagine snowy streets at Saint Basil’s Cathedral at the back of his head, A Gentleman in Moscow is a completely different story that is not about a sprawling society but a much more intimate tale within the walls of an opulent hotel turned prison.

His existence like that gilt Faberge egg on the poster for the show is a memory of olden days when people lived in excess – ostentatious relic. He does not matter elsewhere except to be kept on display within this golden cage and have his movements recorded by authorities, just as few eggs now remaining in possession around. This was also true for Faberge Egg itself as Alexander’s destiny was closely related to fall of Romanov family and coming Bolshevik revolution.

The series begins swiftly with Count being handed down life imprisonment within Metropol Hotel walls by Bolshevik tribunal. He escaped from this death sentence only because he wrote what appears to be poetry criticizing royal family and other aristocrats though possibly it could have been him or someone else. All these ideas are certainly common to Bolsheviks even if they come from a count who was part of them. Similar to Towles’ book, there are brief glimpses into Count’s past before revolution through fragmented flashbacks spread throughout each episode as well as scenes featuring his friends Mishka (Fehinti Balogun) and Prince Nikolai Petrov (Paul Ready).

A Gentleman in Moscow has been smartly recreated by Ben Vanstone form literature into film directing it accordingly. Rather than preserving its inward looking narrative style built around Count alone, Vanstone broadened out other characters lives —particularly women who frequented his life and transformed doors Metropol into gilded ones. It would be possible to lay Anna Urbanova (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) out as the Count’s on and off girlfriend. She is nowhere in Alexander’s life except when they are together or he thinks about her. Maybe with a different creative team, that would have been exactly how she was portrayed, but Vanstone veered far away from playing straight into that trope. Instead, Anna’s life outside of Alexander is given depth. Her career as an actress is a vital subplot that weaves through each episode, headed towards a larger plot point. While they do sleep together multiple times, it is always done tastefully and implies that this is a relationship where she has control over him. Being associated with a criminal at all risks her career, thus shifting the narrative even more significantly.

McGregor and Winstead have shared the screen three times so far, starring in both Fargo and Birds of Prey before working together in A Gentleman in Moscow. Their chemistry outside of the movie set is just as notable as that of Alexander and Anna. It’s hard to tell whether we are watching their real selves being exhibited or they are ‘acting’ where even when she is saving him from his delusions of grandeur or he is naked on the ground with only a towel hiding… Fabergé eggs. In fact, McGregor’s partnership with Winstead makes up an important part of A Gentleman in Moscow. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to have some more historical romances around the watercooler, right? And after all this series gets released weekly.

Although Alexander’s relationship with Anna forms the backbone of A Gentleman in Moscow, the heart of this story lies within his unlikely bond with two young girls who lived at Metropol while he was imprisoned there at different intervals. The first girl being Nina Kulikova (Alexa Goodall), a curly-haired spitfire who could get anyone wrapped around her finger without breaking a sweat. This fast track brings about change, and transforms Alexander into someone entirely different at last able to build relationships with other individuals he has met while staying there for that long time; therefore, it was through her that he became a completely new person. Some years later after Nina had been taken away from Alexander’s luxurious cage another little girl comes into his life: Sofia (Billie Gadsdon). Through these two girls, Alexander gets to experience what fatherhood might be like if not for Bolsheviks who destroyed all options.

There is another strange friendship formed by Alexander within Metropol which would never have made sense between him and Glebnikov (Johnny Harris), whose sole role was ensuring that no one left hotel premises alive until death knocks them out on their own initiative someday. Glebnikov and Alexander engaged themselves in some discussions in order to make him a gentleman. At least this was something that the latter felt he could help the former with in as far as they spent their evenings talking about it.

In one such dialogue, Javert’s suicide looks confusing for Glebnikov who shies away from Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (spoiler alert for a 162-year-old book). The conversation on Les Misérables is brief but no less than this: there is something common between them. Like Jean Valjean, Alexey has also been under custody of circumstances although at opposite ends of the continuum. Unlike Valjean who frequently escaped from his jailor, Javert, Alexander never moves around much whenever it comes to Glebnikov; he just remains within the hotel’s Metropol walls where Glebnikov left him last time. However, there appears to be a better parallel when Alexander becomes responsible for Sofia upon her mother’s request just like Fantine did when she trusted Cosette’s future life with Valjean. Further comparisons can be drawn if we take into account the backdrop of both novels since each takes place at historical periods of unrest, revolt, inequities in society and conversations based on socialism that would have made Karl Marx really excited even after his passing away. Writing during a typical season of transition witnessed every year on Broadway stage musicals.

A Gentleman in Moscow spans about forty years of Alexander’s life in captivity and is spread across eight episodes. Every time a new episode starts, it automatically estimates the period spent by him in his luxurious jail. The episodes sometimes go backward from the shocking total numbers, compelling viewers right at the beginning of an episode. However, except for signs of aging and loss of agility, he is largely stationary as his world evolves around him. He has no power over his own situation — this means he doesn’t do much to himself but things happen to him. People come and go around him; relationships are formed; babies are born; those babies grow up and fight wars; people die; Russia changes, both positively and negatively.

The first couple of episodes start with a slow pace especially when Alexander’s passivity is concerned but after a while when he comes to terms with his predicament and interacts with the colorful world around him though small it may be, things begin to move faster than ever before. Without giving too much away about the final few episodes in this series we can imagine some sort of upset that will disturb his gilded cage once Stalin’s reign falls apart while America searches through what remains of government. Graying hair is only one way to show how time flies without much notice. The residents who occupy rooms all around Metropol change constantly, unlike Alexander whose clothes never get updated. Anna herself signals societal changes by looking like a flapper in her picture-perfect complexion with rising hemlines compared to her natural brunette curls natural sophistication all within seconds only visible on screen.. As time goes on she even wears cozy sweaters just like what Alexander wears everyday.

However unintentional A Gentleman in Moscow was meant to make Ewan McGregor look like dark academia fever dream, every single part of Count’s character design screams that aesthetic concept out loud.The permed coils sprouting haphazardly from atop his head or long johns-clad calisthenics in some dusty garret might as well have belonged more to an eccentric history professor than a grounded count. McGregor does a wonderful job of bringing congenital charm that makes the Count even more alluring; especially during his scenes with the young members of the cast. When he isn’t trading barbs with Winstead, he’s at his best keeping up with Goodall and Gadsdon in their youthful banter.

A Gentleman in Moscow is everything we expect from Towles and offers not only a grand historical epic but one set within the confines of a single location. His world might be limited to Metropol but his relationships are all-consuming—he lives through them, as do we. Infused with mystery, danger and intrigue A Gentleman in Moscow has the potential to become this year’s Shōgun or The Gilded Age for those who crave well-told stories.

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