Saturday, January 13, 2007

BBC's Archangel is a drab affair

I recently watched the BBC's adaptation of Archangel, based on the Robert Harris novel. This mini-series, directed by Jon Jones and adapted to the screen by Dick Clement, was originally aired in 2005, but I decided to give it a go on DVD.

This is a lacklustre adaptation, despite a promising start. Daniel Craig is fine here as academic Fluke Kelso, an expert in Stalin and modern Russian history. He almost comes a cropper, tracking down a long-lost son of Stalin, now harboured by a band of conniving, ruthless Communists (in the 1990s) as a secret weapon - a means to ignite nostalgic fervour amongst Russia's poverty-stricken masses, hankering for the securities of a former communist regime. Craig has some OK support in the form of Gabriel Macht, as an adventuring American journalist who hopes for the story of a lifetime, and in the pretty personage of Yekaterina Rednikova, who plays Zinaida, the call girl daughter of Papu (Valery Chernak), who as a young man bore witness to the suppression of Stalin's 'secret' when the dictator died.

Russia is portrayed as cold, frostbitten, bleak and uncompromising. This is a chilly production. Atmospheric as this may be, the overall tenor of the production is too dour, too grainy, and simply too dull. By the time Craig and Macht have encountered the clearly loopy Stalin Jr, Josef, played here with surly aplomb by Konstantin Lavronenko, I found my attention wandering.

This is a shame. Some of the acting, from a mainly Russian cast, is top-notch. The scenery is convincing. Production values are strong, if not exciting. Perhaps it is the story itself? I had hoped to be gripped much, much more. All the right ingredients were in place. I love a conspiracy theory, and Russian politics is a pet topic. But this thriller failed to grip.

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