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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A valiant, although not entirely successful, attempt to pay respect to the White soldiers of Russian Civil War, 29 Jun. 2012
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This review is from: The Admiral [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
I am quite glad that I saw this recent Russian film, and I rather liked it, although it certainly has many flaws.

"Admiral" is supposed to tell the story of life, struggles and death of Admiral Alexander Vasilyevich Kolchak (1874-1920), a man probably completely unknown to most people in the West - but quite familiar to those from Eastern Europe. Being Polish and having grown under the communist rule, I quite well remember this name as one of the most famous "boogeymen" used in the official propaganda. Already in elementary school we had to read some Soviet books describing adventures of heroic little children who in time of Russian Civil War helped to the best of their abilities to defeat the hideous hordes of "White" evildoers commanded by the monstrous bloodthirsty wraith dressed in a sailor uniform - the Admiral! The hatred the communists still felt towards this man even 60 years after his death was unbelievable - but somehow understandable as, together with general Denikin, he gave them probably the biggest scare in the whole history of their sinister movement...

As this film describes only the years 1916-20, it can be interesting to have a short look at Kolchak's earlier life. Son of Major-General Vassily Kolchak, a veteran of Crimean War and specialist in coastal defence, he quite naturally followed in his father tracks by joining the Navy in 1894. After four years spend in Far East Fleet (Vladivostok, 1895-99), he volunteered to particularly dangerous duty in Arctic expeditions organised by Russian Navy (1900-1903). Having survived two long expeditions (from which some of his companions didn't return), he was reaffected again to the Far Eastern command and arrived there just in time to take part in the defense of Port-Arthur (1904-05) against the Japanese, first serving on cruiser "Askold".

He then received the command of the destroyer "Serdityi" and he led this ship in numerous mining operations. A minefield laid by "Serdityi" is credited with destruction of Japanese cruiser "Takasago" on 13 December 1904. After all Russian ships in Port-Arthur were disabled by fire of Japanese artillery and lack of coal and spare parts, Kolchak commanded a coastal battery (like his father in the Crimean War). Badly wounded, he was ultimately taken prisoner when the Port-Arthur garrison surrendered on 2 January 1905.

Between 1905 and 1914 Kolchak worked on reconstruction of Russian Navy. He soon became an authority on mines and mine warfare. His other speciality was designing powerful modern ice-breakers and by studying problems of travel in Arctic waters he also acquired a considerable scientifical reputation as glaciologist.

In the beginning of World War I he was affected to Baltic Sea Fleet and charged with laying a defensive bareer of extensive minefields. Once Russian bases were safe behind those protections, he proposed a vast operation of offensive mine-laying raids in German coastal waters and was designated to co-ordinate it. Although promoted already to Rear-Admiral, he insisted to participate in all those dangerous mining operations on board of small destroyers, amongst his men. Minefields his ships laid in Baltic Sea between 1914 and 1916 caused a great lot of trouble to Germans until the end of the war.

The action of the film begins at the very end end of his Baltic Sea exploits, just before he was promoted to Vice-Admiral and named Commander-in-Chief of Black Sea Fleet.

This film is not however a real biography - it is rather a "hagiography" of this very controversial man, avoiding black spots and focusing on his achievements, his religiosity and his personal life. "Admiral" has definitely many flaws:

- the first battle scene in the film is historically completely inaccurate, although inspired by real events; it describes the destruction of powerful German armoured-cruiser SMS "Friedrich Carl" and this is a historical event; however "Friedrich Carl" was sunk on 17 November 1914 (in the film it happens in 1916) and even if she was destroyed by mines laid by Russian destroyers commanded by Kolchak, at the moment of her sinking he himself was NOWHERE NEAR the site of her demise (entry to German port of Memel)...

- there is no mention of conditions in which Kolchak seized the power over the Provisional Government of Russia in Siberia (in reality he more or less made a coup d'etat)

- there is not even one mention of the very harsh way he dealt with all communists, real or suspected, during his great anti-Bolshevik offensive in 1919; in real history, Kolchak didn't hesitate to execute hundreds of people to eliminate all support for Bolcheviks in conquered areas; although it is also fair to say, that whatever atrocities he committed, they were peanuts compared to what communists were doing in the same time; it is safe to assume that for every hundred people executed during the Russian Civil War by the Whites, the Bolcheviks killed one thousand

- there is no mention of grievous mistakes he did in 1918-19; Admiral Kolchak was many things, but a politician and a diplomat he was not; by trying to return the land which peasants seized by force in 1917-18 to its rightful previous owners he alienated large parts of Siberian population and helped create a vicious guerilla on his communication lines; he turned against him the non-Bolchevik leftists ("esers" and "mencheviks"); he lost at critical moment the support of Czech and Polish troops fighting initially on Whites side in Siberia; and finally he didn't manage to obtain any support from foreign troops which entered Siberia in 1918 (Japanese and Americans)

- and finally the film gives too much place to the romance between Kolchak and his mistress, Anna Timiryova - and as a consequence there is not enough time left to treat war and history

But there are also many other points, which I liked very much and which made the watching of this film a rather enjoyable experience:

- the first battle scene (the destruction of "Friedrich Carl"), although historically inaccurate, is a very very powerful and touching one;

- the scenes of disintegration of Russian armed forces just before the revolution, including the one in which Kolchak is challenged by his own sailors, are excellent; the fate of officers and cadets during the revolution is shown in a terrifying (and terrific) way

- the scene in which the White Army in Siberia, standing in the immaculate snow, swears solemnly to fight for God and country is a splendor - I confess that I actually had tears in my eyes at the end...

- the great bayonet charge of White soldiers, who have no more munitions so they have to go take them from the enemy, is a REALLY great one

- the terrifying Great Siberian Ice March of White soldiers from general Vladimir Kappel's army is IMPRESSIVE (and it is a very real event)!

- the surrealist train trip which brings Admiral Kolchak to his fate is at least as good as the train voyage from "Doctor Zhivago"

- the scene in which Kolchak finally meets his destiny is extremely powerful

- it must also be said that Elizaveta Boyarskaya, who plays Anna Timiryova, is a drop dead gorgeous, eyes-hurting-level beauty...

- and finally, the post-scriptum scenes showing the later life of Anna Timiryova are very, very touching; the communists have so much feared and hated Admiral Kolchak that even after his death, unable to reach his family (his wife and son lived safely in France), at least they kept tormenting his mistress, for no less than FORTY years!

So all in all, I give to this film four stars, even if it is maybe a little bit too generous - but I ultimately rather liked it. Also, I am happy that this movie was made and that, although far from perfection, it gave some respect to all those soldiers of the White Armies, who not only lost their war and their lifes, but then kept being insulted and vilified for the next 70 years in every possible way and by every possible media - almost as if the communists feared that one day they could rise from their graves and overthrow them; which is in a certain way exactly what happened in 1991...
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 26 Nov 2014 17:42:25 GMT
Really interesting commentary by the gentleman from Poland. I think a lot of his critical points were addressed in the expanded version of this movie, a version in 10 parts that was produced about one year after this movie.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Dec 2014 10:21:38 GMT
Maciej says:
Thank you for your comment and kind words. I hope that the 10 parts version will be ultimately available in either English or Polish, so I can watch it.

Best regards and Merry Christmas

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Jan 2015 21:06:55 GMT
Monty Milne says:
An excellent and informative commentary - thank you.

One small point I liked was when Kolchak is presented with a goose and hands it to an aide, telling him to record it as a gift - a little reference to Kolchak's personal honesty - so unlike the financial irregularity of many others at that chaotic time.

I agree that the scene in the snow is incredibly moving (when the old white bearded soldier bares his head and falls to his knees) - I wished I was there so I could join them!

Posted on 5 Jan 2015 22:47:32 GMT
tina says:
Absolutely amasing comment about the movie and very impressive knowledge of Russian history. I didn't know as much as you do, dear Darth, being a citizen of Soviet Union for 45 years. You are right, the bolsheviks cleaned up anything about White Guard, even after 1991 it was not very easy to find any information about what happened in reality. Thank you.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Jan 2015 08:38:36 GMT
Maciej says:
Thank you very much for your comment and nice words. I agree with all your points.

Best regards and Happy New Year 2015

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Jan 2015 08:40:57 GMT
Last edited by the author on 6 Jan 2015 08:41:20 GMT
Maciej says:
Dear Tina

thank you very much for your comment and nice words - you certainly made my day (and made me blush a little...)

There are some very good recent (and less recent) books about October Revolution and Russian Civil War - those by Richard Pipes and Orlando Figes would be the ones I would recommend for further readings.

Best regards and Happy New Year 2015

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Jan 2015 11:46:56 GMT
tina says:
Thank you very much for the advised books. I will try to find them. I have a teenage daughter who sometimes asks questions or wants to know about her country and I can't tell her a lot because of the confusion created by my school and university education and further reading of plenty of historical bits and pieces after Gorbachev allowed to publish them. Russia was always full of secrets and myths but I still love my country and want to know the truth to be able to understand better what is happening now. I am originally from Belarus and lived in my father's country Armenia so it is a lot to find out. I admire people like you who try to know more about their history and history of other peoples. Thank you again.
Sincerely yours. Tatiana
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