A Gentleman in Moscow – A Master of Circumstance


A Gentleman in Moscow is the brand new series based on the book from Amor Towles, and right from the start – it has pedigree, with a well made production benefiting from Ewan McGregor front and centre as the titular Gentleman in Moscow, a Count who has caught himself on the wrong side of the October Revolution but has enough good standing with those in power not to be executed, or worse like most of his royal friends. Instead, he’s confined to a hotel that he loves, stripped of his regular room and confined to the loft, where he’s assigned with living the rest of his life as a man bound to one place who cannot step out of the hotel without being shot, and all food and drinks are paid for. It is dangerous times as spies are everywhere within the hotel, and he must make the choice between the attachment of his belongings which evoke memories of his past; or risk leaving for good with the help of a friend.

It’s an easy watch. Intoxicating in its seductively, A Gentleman in Moscow has the brand recognition: Towles is one of the most skilled writers currently around at the moment, his Lincoln Highway is a natural, modern heir to John Steinbeck and one of the best books of the last few years. A Gentleman in Moscow is every bit as talked about, and praised. McGregor does a sound job at portraying a man who has quickly gone from riches to rags inside an opulent hotel, and the opening scene of the Soviet tribunal you’re instantly swept under his charms in the most fun role he’s having in ages – freed from the confines of a cash-cow in Obi-Wan Kenobi, McGregor delights in courting tradition and old-school royalty values in the face of danger and the new regime. A young girl is swept under his wing, also for unknown reasons a prisoner of the hotel, and he learns more about its secrets from her as the pair strike up an unlikely friendship with most of the hotel staff falling into two camps: those who respect his virtues, calling him by his old titles much to the dismay of new management, or those who can’t stand his presence, bluntly pouring his wine and standing over him while he eats delicious fish with obvious distaste.

The shaky camera that betray Count Rostov’s past bring the otherwise high quality production values down. It feels blunt and there are scenes where the director recalls that of Terence Malick, but without the visual flair or grace. Sam Miller is a TV veteran with credits on Daredevil, Luke Cage, Snowpiercer, I May Destroy You (its entirety), and more – and whilst his craft in I May Destroy You was excellent, the pedigree that he brings to A Gentleman in Moscow is hit/miss. The shots where him and Alexa Goodall’s Nina are running through the hotel have a sense of wonder but it also feels abrupt at times, sudden. Like the show is constrained by its episode length and it is doing its best to fit everything in that length, when a bit more time to breathe would have been good. It’s obviously a show based off a book and very clearly the dialogue and voiceover narration feel distinctive with Towles’ writing, and Ben Vanstone does an excellent job at the teleplay adaption.

Miller and Sarah O’Gorman should give A Gentleman in Moscow the pedigree that it needs, and the fact that it’s only six episodes should mean that it never outstays its welcome. It’s quite clear to see that quite a few production changes have gone on behind the scenes with the original plan being Kenneth Branagh to act and Tom Harper to direct; but the changes to McGregor make sense – the eccentricities of Rostov would feel a bit too similar to Branagh’s stock and trade in his modern Poirot incarnation, and McGregor’s wit and charm is instantly infectious. It’s hard not to fall under his spell. I’m looking forward to seeing how the reset of the cast works around this, particularly Leah Harvey – coming across from AppleTV+’s excellent Foundation, and the likes of Mary Elizabeth Winstead (McGregor’s wife), Johnny Harris, and more round out this cast.

I really like the dynamic between McGregor and Ready, I love how tragic Ready is as a violinist here, and the escape plan is foolhardy as it is ambitious. You see how it would have played out with both their characters’ hopes and dreams exaggerated, and whilst there is a tough of lightweightness to its politics, not as self-serious as say, The New Look, A Gentleman in Moscow manages to maintain its status as an arena for actors to show their fun and swagger with all the craft and showmanship of stars at the top of their game. Can’t wait for more – along with Renegade Nell it’s become appointment television.

A Gentleman in Moscow airs weekly on Paramount+.

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