REVIEW: DVD Release: The Admiral

Film: The Admiral
Release date: 14th June 2010
Certificate: 15
Running time: 99 mins
Director: Andrei Kravchuk
Starring: Konstantin Khabensky, Elizaveta Boyarskaya, Vladislav Vetrov, Sergei Bezrukov, Richard Bohringer
Genre: War/Drama/History/Romance
Studio: In2Film
Format: DVD
Country: Russia

When the Tsar took Russia into the First World War against Germany, he had no way of foreseeing the terrible events that would unfold, and the men and monsters that would be unleashed upon his country. When the revolution strikes, Russia is thrown into chaos as the Communists fight for power, but in the East a movement has arisen. The Whites to fight the Reds. They are led by a national hero, Admiral Kolchak - the Supreme Leader of Russia.

In late 1916, Admiral Kolchak is in charge of a mine laying ship in the Baltic Sea when a German ship – the Karl Friedrich arrives on the horizon. The Friedrich is many times more powerful than Kolchak's ship, and practically blows her to pieces. Kolchak, with most of his crew dead or wounded, personally fires a direct hit on the enemy battleship and then succeeds in luring her into the mines Kolchak has just laid. An almost suicidal strategy, but one that succeeds. The Friedrich is beaten.

At the subsequent celebrations, Kolchak meets Anna Timirev, the wife of his second-in-command, Sergey Timirev. Kolchak and Anna fall in love immediately, but Kolchak chooses for them to be separate to avoid further pain to their spouses. Even so, they write often. Sergey eventually asks to be transferred to avoid further humiliation.

The Tsar promotes Kolchak to Vice Admiral, commanding the Baltic fleet, but the Tsar is soon deposed. The sailors of the fleet revolt and the officers of Sergey's ship are executed, Sergey manages to escape, and he and Anna flee to the East. Kolchak's ship also revolts, but Kolchak avoids bloodshed by surrendering power. The provisional government sends him into exile in America.

Kolchak soon returns, gaining a power base in Irkutsk, Siberia. He takes command of the resistance. The Siberian “White” government opposing communism and fights his way west using trains to take his army across the icy landscape. Anna hears of his return and travels to meet him, but on seeing him give a speech, she becomes a nurse, and follows the army anonymously so that she does not distract him from his destiny.

As the army pushes towards Omsk, their base in Irkutsk is threatened. Kolchak makes the decision to retreat in order to consolidate his strength, but the railway workers on which he is dependent are beginning to revolt. As his train makes the dangerous journey back East, Kolchak finds Anna and they are finally able to be in love in the last few days until the train is finally stopped. Kolchak, Supreme Leader of Russia, is executed…

The Admiral is a film that wants to be Dr Zhivago. An epic love story stretching across the Russian Revolution. Unfortunately, it comes across as an empty story devoid of emotion and devoid of context.

Kolchak is one of the major figures of Russian history, but by the end we are none the wiser as to who Kolchak is. His achievements are treated strangely, the fight with the Karl Friedrich at the beginning is pretty much pure cinematic fiction, and Kolchak's achievements as an explorer are ignored. His exile, return and installation as Supreme Leader of Russia all occur off-screen, and his final campaign is treated without context. Why does Kolchak oppose communism? Was he a royalist? A friend of the Tsar? An anti-communist? Or simply exploiting an opportunity? Worse still, the allegations that Kolchak presided over massacres and mass torture in a brutal military dictatorship are completely ignored. This is available in further reading, but in the context of the film not only does it leaves our ‘hero’ without life, without reason for anything he is seen to do, but at best it betrays the man, and at worst, deliberately misinforms.

The film tries to focus on the love story between Kolchak and Anna, but without knowing Kolchak, or indeed Anna, beyond the fact that they both look beautiful, we cannot understand what attracts them to each other. The ‘love story’ is completely empty, devoid of reason, the history a hotch potch at best. Kolchak and Anna spend the entire film whispering sweet nothings about how much they love each other, but at no point does the film show why.

This lack of emotional understanding by the director extends beyond the basic story. Kolchak and Anna's spouses are treated equally badly. After establishing that Kolchak is married and has a son, and that they are upset about his adultery, they are given almost no screen time, and are completely absent from the final third of the film. Sergey gains a little more exposition, but also disappears from view once Anna leaves him. Kravchuk is only interested in his two principals, but this hamstrings the whole film.

Several battle scenes in the second half, choreographed with skill and looking good, are also pointless as we have no reference to the men fighting the battles, only their high command, which is Kolchak looking stern and severe in a train carriage. The cast and two leads give us their best, but without the backing of script or director, their efforts are in vain.

It is impossible to deny, however, that the film looks good. The CGI is used sparingly and effectively, with the Karl Friedrich, in particular, positively terrifying. The costumes are sumptuous, the cinematography bewitches at every turn. If only this was all that were required to make a film. For a historical epic, it's a sadly wasted opportunity.

A pretty film hides an emotionally empty story, all the sadder for it being true, and therefore a failure to show the reality and events of the time. The longer it goes on, losing context and character development as it goes, the more soft focus it becomes. Until, by the end, you're not sure why you cared. A folly. PE

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