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A Gentleman in Moscow

TELEVISION | A Russian aristocrat watches his country change over 32 years of house arrest—but this adaptation lacks the quiet wisdom of its source material

Jason Bell / Paramount+ With Showtime

<em>A Gentleman in Moscow</em>
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Rated TV-14

SHORTLY AFTER the fall of the Romanov dynasty, Bolshevik revolutionaries sentence Russian aristocrat Count Alexander Rostov to house arrest at the luxurious Metropol hotel. Amor Towles’ delightful book A Gentleman in Moscow doesn’t hurry through the Count’s 32-year house arrest, but in the new eight-episode TV adaptation, the story loses its quiet wisdom.

When the count (Ewan McGregor) settles into his quarters in the hotel’s attic, he quickly realizes the gravity of his predicament. He’s a man of leisure who finds himself with nothing but leisure at his disposal. Before long, he meets a spunky 9-year-old named Nina Kulikova (Alexa Goodall), and the two become fast friends. With her special passkey, Nina and the count spy on the inner workings of the Metropol. Though he can’t go outside, the count watches his beloved country change from within the hotel.

In between his adventures with Nina, the count meets Anna Urbanova (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a sultry actress who’s willing to do almost anything to stay in the right people’s good graces. As in the novel, Anna is ahead of her time (though I doubt the character in the book would have worn some of the revealing outfits she sports in the show). Despite the differences in their backgrounds, the count and Anna develop a covert affair.

For the most part, the show treats scenes of intimacy with the same delicacy as Towles’ novel. The book didn’t include much swearing and the show doesn’t either. Much of the dialogue was taken from the book, but several additions to the script include an unnecessary narrator and a random nod to a gay character, which is more likely a nod to Hollywood’s diversity police.

In the book, the count reminded me of a shrewd P.G. Wodehouse character. He’s a man of conviction who never loses his cool. But McGregor portrays a man who doesn’t really know what he wants and who seems blindsided by the revolution. In the five episodes that were made available for reviewers, the series glosses over how communism devastated Russia and replaced the old regime with a new one, something that wasn’t lost on the count in the novel.

The series largely blames the changing political atmosphere on the former ruling class, made up of people like the count who simply refused to let go of their old way of life. Amor Towles’ original version of the count undergoes character development when he learns self-sacrifice, and not, as in the show, when he recognizes the silliness of the aristocracy. I’m hopeful the final episodes will deal more honestly with the fallout of the Russian Revolution, but I already know the book was much better.

TV adaptations of literature

  • I, Claudius / 1976
  • All Creatures Great and Small / 1978 and 2020
  • Shōgun / 1980 and 2024
  • Sense and Sensibility / 1981
  • The Barchester Chronicles / 1982
  • Lonesome Dove / 1989
  • Pride and Prejudice / 1995
  • The Underground Railroad / 2021

Bekah McCallum

Bekah is a reviewer, reporter, and editorial assistant at WORLD. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and Anderson University.


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