Better Than Fiction: The Last Czars Producer Takes Us Behind the Scenes of the Latest Romanov Tribute
It’s been a little over a century since the assassination of Russia’s last tsar and his family, yet it has been a favorite topic among historians, television series, and documentaries alike. By now you might have binge-watched all eight episodes of the Netflix original The Last Czars. (If you haven’t yet, it’s high time that you did). The docuseries presents a different approach to the age-old story by combining dramatic reenactments with expert commentaries.
“As a drama-documentary, it appeals to both the audience interested in real history and those with a passion for period drama,” the show’s producer Ben Goold tells Town&Country Philippines in an exclusive interview. He believes that the historic event is as relevant as ever. “There’s a great sense of doomed romance around the end of the Romanovs. It’s a family tragedy but at the same time, it is one of the defining political events that launched us into the 20th century.”
Goold himself has expressed a personal interest in history and the events surrounding the Russian revolution, saying the family’s fate “has always fascinated” him. He is particularly drawn to Rasputin. “It’s a true story that is more incredible than fiction,” he says. But the tricky part was intertwining fact and interpolation, and for that, they enlisted the help of historians. The writers, producers, and researchers had also worked closely with their series consultant, Professor Robert Service of Oxford University. “We are fortunate that so many of the personal letters of the imperial family survived to give us a direct insight into their lives,” he adds.
The drama-documentary tried to incorporate as much factual evidence as it could. The opulent palace interiors were set in the Rundale Palace in Latvia, Goold tells us, which was designed for the Duke of Courland by the same architect as the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. The architect, Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, was a favorite of Catherine the Great.
The palace had an impressive 138 rooms and “could give Versailles a run for its money,” showrunner Hereward Pelling said in an interview with Broadcast Magazine. Filming also took them to Lithuania, where the crew shot scenes at the Verkiai Palace, which served as the setting of the residence of Count Yusupov, who came to murder Rasputin. Pelling considered one of the productions greatest privileges to be able to splurge on their locations.
See some of the real-life palaces below:
The Rundale Palace is one of two palatial residences built for the Dukes of Courland.
The palace was built between 1736 and 1740, with designs conceptualized and implemented by Italian architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, whose major works include the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg and the Catherine Palace in the town of Tsarskoye Selo.
One of the palace's highlights is the French-style park with a rose garden, maintained in a labyrinth format.
It's now lauded as a major tourist destination in Latvia. The eastern wing of the Palace, which consists of the Gilt Hall, White Hall, and the Great Gallery, are open to the public.
The Verkiai Palace was built for the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and later donated to the diocese in Vilnius. Its first major caretaker under the diocese was bishop Konstantinas Kazimieras Bžostovskis.
Renowned architects Marcin Knackfus and Laurynas Gucevi?ius were commissioned in 1780 to rebuild the main palace building in neoclassical style. It was only after that it earned the title "the Versailles of Vilnius."
The palace suffered damages after Napoleon's invasion of Russia, so it again underwent reconstruction.
The western and eastern offices, pavilion, gatehouse, greenhouses, villas, and other original structures remain.
Watch The Last Czars on Netflix here.