Sunday, 1 July 2018
Fall of Eagles: Dearest Nicky
The middle of the series, and this is the first plot to properly crossover two of the countries. The framing device is Kaiser Wilhelm writing letters to Tsar Nicholas to offer him unsolicited advice on how to rule Russia, beginning each one with the "Dearest Nicky" of the title. He also likes sending the Tsar awful allegorical paintings featuring the two Emperors in the picture (and with the Kaiser depicted more flatteringly than the Tsar), which the Russians are too diplomatic to refuse.
Nicholas and Alexandra are, to begin with, more concerned with their pet project of getting a supposed holy manny canonised as a saint than the business of government, to such an extent that Nicholas prefers seeing the Archbishop (John Welsh, probably best known for being the Emerald Seer in Krull) over meeting with his ministers.
This changes when Japan attacks Russia and starts a war. Both Tsar and Kaiser show their racism, calling the Japanese "little yellow men", and expect an easy Russian victory to begin with. Early signs that this will not be the case come when Russian naval incompetence leads to the Dogger Bank incident - we don't see this on screen, of course, just hear about it through the medium of the Kaiser's exposition-delivering letters.
Father Gapon (Kenneth "Admiral Piett" Colley) is a priest who is also a police spy in a trade union, but after von Plehve gets assassinated (a black comedic moment as he tries to close his carriage door to keep the bomb out, only to shut himself inside with it) he properly goes over to the side of the union and begins a strike that leads to an attempt at revolution. Colley gives a magnificent speech full of rhetoric as he whips up the workers into revolting, and we also see him manipulate the workers by using the authority the Russian Orthodox church has over them.
Again we see the bad influence Nicholas and Alexandra have upon each other as they refuse to listen to advice from anyone else, which leads to them sending cavalry in to massacre the strikers.
The news from the war gets worse as Russia's fleet is sunk, and Kaiser Wilhelm sees this time of their weakness as an opportunity to get a treaty signed with Russia, even though Russia is currently allied to Germany's enemy France. His minister von Bülow says he'll be impressed if the Kaiser can pull it off, but for a while it seems as if Wilhelm's policy of "monarch speaking to monarch" has succeeded - a hilarious scene as the Tsar and Kaiser meet, over the top of which we hear Wilhelm's unreliable narration of what happened.
Nicholas signs the treaty and for a moment it looks like the two Emperors are about to kiff (Wilhelm/Nicholas OTP FTW!!111), then there is a hard cut to the room of Russian ministers refusing to ratify the treaty, for the very sensible reason that it would undo 15 years of their diplomacy with France.
On top of all of this, for Nicholas and Alexandra, there is their personal worry about their baby son Alexei who has hemophilia. This weighs upon Nicholas even more than the rest of his and Russia's problems (war, revolution, and Germany "helping"), as shown by the unusual way the episode ends - the Tsar is cut off halfway through a sentence, with his worry about his son the unsaid part. What we don't hear him say only serves to emphasise to us what he is feeling, a clever way to end things.