Once again, the end of the Romanovs by execution, this time through the memories of an old man who claims he was there.
In 1998, in a Chicago suburb, a wealthy aging Russian émigré bequeaths to his granddaughter a tape he’s made so that she will understand his role in the death of the Tsar and his family. According to the tape, he was a 14-year-old kitchen boy called Leonka in the Siberian house where the Romanovs were imprisoned. The narrator waxes on about the Tsar and Tsarina’s qualities as human beings—their courage, kindness, family devotion—while he begrudgingly acknowledges their weakness as rulers: Alexandra’s religious fanaticism and Nikolai’s unwillingness to accept the concept of a constitutional monarchy. Leonka rails against the Bolsheviks, declaring them swinish and vicious, and recounts the household’s dull daily routine of prayers, meals, and sewing (pounds of jewels inside the girls’ corsets). Because as kitchen boy he regularly leaves the house and is too lowly to draw suspicion, Leonka becomes a courier between the Tsar and unknown allies outside the walls. The days drag on until eventually, through Leonka’s carelessness, a letter is intercepted and plans for Nikolai’s execution are set in motion. Leonka watches through a window as the Romanovs are murdered and later recovers two bodies that fall from the wagon carrying them away. One is the heir, shot dead. The other is his wounded sister, Grand Duchess Maria. Leonka’s sense of guilt leads him, at great risk, to try to save Maria’s life. The tape over, the old man dies, and his granddaughter discovers that his story, though true in spirit, misleads in its most central details. Meantime, historical letters and other factual tidbits have been sprinkled throughout as if to prove authenticity, though they add little.
More accurate than Ingrid Bergman waltzing with Yul Brenner, but also much duller.