Until Edvard Radzinsky came along, the story of Nicholas and Alexandra was the one told eponymously by Robert K. Massie, the tragic tale of two beautiful, loving royals succumbing tragically in martyrdom to the whiplash of history.
Edvard Radzinsky arrived on the international scene in 1993 with a different take, and the route he took to arrive there was a curious and serendipitous one. He once fortuitously found himself lodging in the home of a retired ballet dancer, Vera Dinovia, who revealed to him the former existence of 'Atlantis,' a world long-submerged under Soviet rhetoric and purposive historical retelling. In her Atlantis, there were emperors and empresses, grand dukes and grand duchesses, princes and princesses beyond imagining, with limitless power and unimaginable wealth – gods on earth. Could Edvard bring himself to believe that once Vera had performed before gods?
Amid the strictures of the post-Stalinist Soviet Union, in which Russian history had been entirely rewritten to remove all inconvenient truths of an anti-Communist kind, these propositions took some swallowing, yet Vera was very convincing …
However, in the meantime, Edvard had become friendly with a librarian who one day showed him some banned photographs of the court of Nicholas and Alexandra, and the floods of Atlantis began to ebb away. Over time, Edvard gained access to Nicholas and Alexandra's private diaries and to the description by Yakov Yurovsky of the execution of the Imperial Family, and, no doubt perceiving the truth through the filter of socialist dialectic, he came to a very different conclusion as to the characters and decisions of the last Emperor and Empress of Russia.
Maybe they weren't a fairy tale prince and princess. Yes, they were beautiful, but maybe they weren't smart. Maybe they were actually somewhat obnoxious in their attitudes. Maybe Nicholas was bordering on mentally retarded and Alexandra was a huge, over-indulged whiner. Maybe, even, Russia was well rid of them, whatever the horrors and desecration of its subsequent history.
This is where I came in, with Edvard Radzinsky's 'Last Tsar,' and I have been fascinated by the crazy history of the Romanovs ever since. Whereas Robert K. Massie's telling was idyllic and gilded – until it wasn't – Radzinsky's version rang more true of humanity, the humanity of this particular Emperor and Empress, all wrapped up in their human failings, prejudices, myopia and arrogance.
In the end, we don't need to judge Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra; we need only observe them and ask what we would have done in their places. Someone greater than you and me might have extricated Russia from its woeful predicament, but the truth is that they weren't any smarter, or even any more ruthless, than we are, and they fell, and all of the Russias fell, accordingly.