Film Reviews
Photo courtesy of Showtime

In the British series “A Gentleman in Moscow,” a tragedy transforms into a blessing over decades as dire events impact Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov. It’s 1921, post-1917 Bolshevik revolution, when Alexander returns from Paris to Moscow, residing in a lavish Metropol Hotel suite. Arrested as an enemy of the state, Alexander is confined to house arrest in that hotel.

However, Rostov will now reside in a sixth floor walkup, servants’ attic room, enjoying none of the guests’ amenities. Nevertheless, Alex resigns himself to his fate, settles in, and works as a first-rate, soon head waiter. Developments in his highly restricted movement and space soon include admirable rapport with former and new friends, silent screen star Anna Urbanova, and hotel workers. With a vindictive hotel manager, circumstances become increasingly dangerous after Stalin succeeds Lenin in 1926. Before long, a compassionate Alex will accept care of young Sofia because of tragedy visited upon her parents, previous guests Nina and her husband, sent to a Siberian workcamp.

Based on Amor Towles’ 2016 novel of the same title, “A Gentleman in Moscow” stars a brilliant Ewan McGregor as Alexander Rostov. His expressive nonverbal reactions and incomparable verbal delivery maneuver diverse scenes through trauma and delight with masterful acting. The supporting cast matches his talent, notably Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Anna Urbanova. Told in flashback by Sofia as an adult narrator, the story never simplifies or betrays the complex political and emotional world of twentieth-century Russia. Ben Vanstone, showrunner and writer of seven of the eight episodes, understands the struggles and the stakes, often presented with understated delivery but never devoid of solid content.

Technically, Adam Gillman’s cinematography brings the Metropol Hotel to vivid life. In addition, with numerous subplots and characters, events unfold with clarity and suspense, Tim Murrell’s excellent editing lingering as needed on emotional moments and moving quickly as action dictates more speed. Details of the art direction matter as well, from photos and paintings to costumes and even a cigarette lighter. Engaging, informative, thoroughly accomplished, “A Gentleman in Moscow” conveys this world, this hotel, and the terrifying lives of individuals who embody courage and true camaraderie. The eight episodes of “A Gentleman in Moscow” stream on Showtime.

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