Never pre-judge a DVD by its cover - least of all The Admiral - which, if you were to believe the packaging artwork of a sinking battleship, would be a rollocking tale of war on the high seas. In fact, this is a sweeping epic, which is more concerned with the battleground of the heart. Also, never pre-judge a DVD by its director, since it is hard to believe that the same Andrei Kravchuk who gave such an impressive amount of bleak Dickensian realism to his last film, The Italian, can have been responsible for this rather-too-glossy look at the Russian Revolution.

The Admiral of the title is Alexander Kolchak (Night Watch's Konstantin Khabensky), a vice-admiral who after the fall of the Russian monarchy got it right up the Bolsheviks during the Revolution. We meet him as he's putting on a display of extreme bravery in the Black Sea, when his ship comes under fire from the Germans in 1916. Cut back to the ballrooms of Russia and the boys - including his right-hand man Sergey (Vladislav Vetrov) - are back in town and being lauded. But, a chance meeting with Sergey's beautiful wife Anna (Elizaveta Boyarskaya) marks the beginning of a relationship which, since Kolchak is also married and a dad-of-one, seems to entirely comprise sideways glances and a heck of a lot of love letters, until Kolchak attempts to call it off.

Copy picture

The course of true love never did run smooth, and it seems the pair should, at least in part, have been grateful for the Revolution, which would finally lead their paths to physically cross once again, as Kolchak tries to quash the Red Army while Anna, desperate to be near him, ministers to the sick on the battlegrounds.

Although none of the film is shot in soft focus, it feels as though it is. Recalling the costume dramas of Merchant Ivory or some of the more expensive Catherine Cookson television adaptations, there is much more emphasis put on emotional affairs than the small matter of a revolution which saw thousands killed on both sides. The use of CGI in key sea battle scenes also steers the picture out of naturalistic territory, since the CGI is patently fake, with one shot of a harbour as Kolchak rides a train looking no more genuine than a theatrical painted backdrop. The swelling score is frequently overpowering, meaning those moments when the music subsides hold the best of the drama.

The film stirred up something of a controversy in Russia because of what some see as the 'rehabilitation' of Kolchak, whom many historians view in a much less sympathetic light than that shown here. But then, almost all historic biopics need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

If you like epic romances such as Dr Zhivago, this provides a decent story of will they/won't they love, although it's all rather U certificate. Heaving bosoms, hand kissing and not even the merest suggestion of nookie, make it all distinctly conservative both with a lowercase and capital 'c'.

Reviewed on: 28 Jul 2009
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Biopic centring on the life and loves of Alexander Kolchak.
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