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Obsessed with the past. Condemned to Repeat it.

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Character Actor
Timofeyev/Yurovsky Malcolm McDowell
Dr. Smirnov/Tsar Nicholas II Oleg Yankovsky
Aleksandr Yegorovich Armen Dzhigarkhanyan
Tsarina Aleksandra Olga Antonova
Kozlov Yuri Sherstnev
Marina Anzhela Ptashuk
Vojkov Viktor Seferov
Princess Olga Dariya Majorova
Princess Tatyana Yevgeniya Kryukova
Princess Mariya Alyona Teremizova
Princess Anastasiya Olga Borisova
Nurse Anastasiya Nemolyayeva
Prince Aleksei Aleksei Logunov
Dr. Botkin Vyacheslav Vdovin
Medvedev Vyacheslav Mukhov

Directed by Karen Shakhnazarov
Written by Aleksandr Borodyansky + Karen Shakhnazarov


Nominated - Golden Palm 1991 Cannes Film Festival for Karen Shakhnazarov

Won - Best Actor 1992 Nika Awards - Oleg Yankovsky and Best Costume Designer Vera Romanova
Nominated - Nika Best Production Designer Lyudmila Kusakova and Best Screenplay Aleksandr Borodyansky Karen Shakhnazarov

Foreign Titles

Russia - Tsareubijtsa


VHS NTSC / PAL - OP / VCD - Russia


2001 Arguments & Facts with Malcolm
9/16/90 The Sunday Express with Malcolm

1990 with Karen Shakhnazarov

Malcolm's Introduction

    Thank you for coming out to this film which is actually one of my favorite films that I have made. I am very fond of the film and the memories that it afforded me of going to this very great country and sharing their hospitality and working with an all Russian cast and director Karen Shakhnazarov. I asked him, "Why me?"  There's a lot of actors out there, a lot of their own, certainly brilliant. He didn't speak great English, I'll try and do the accent, he called me Mike because he couldn't say 'Malcolm'. So he said, "Mike, my mother very much like Caligula. Tell me what would do. I have picture of you above my desk when writing." Let's meet your mother sometime! I had a wonderful time in Russia, it was in '91 I believe. Gorbachev was still in power, the wall was down...it was a very exciting time to be in that country. I think I was there on and off for five and a half months - a lot of chicken soup! And some very heavy beledes - it just sat there like lead. It was a strange thing because you hear there was a very short supply of everything and we went into a store and it was true. You'd look at these empty shelves and then suddenly there would be a lot of lemon soap - 30,000 bars of it - just lemon soap. Wow! So they got that in that week, but no food. I remember sitting down in the make-up chair and we decided, I play two parts as you'll see, and they were going to dye my hair darker. "So you've got the dye? What kind of dye do we have here. May I see it? Is it Clairol - whatever it is?" No, it was not. She took out some carbon paper and poured some cologne into a dish with a toothbrush. Do you know what? It worked damn well! It was brilliant and I'm going, "Oh my god the white and oh it's going to be a disaster it's going to go green or red oh my god. Oh...it looks pretty good." So it worked better than the first time I went to Hollywood when they tried to do it for Cat People and it came out red. I'm serious.
    I asked them why they got involved with writing this production and this is what Karen Shakhnazarov told me. Because his father was one of the three advisors to Gorbachev they were allowed to look at the files of the KGB and read the assassination. What we call assassination, they call it murder by the state - regicide. They found all this myth of Anastasia was all bullshit. So he really found out the exact report of Yurovsky who was the czar killer. It was approved by Lenin and all the top brass. It was an execution by the state - simple as that. Of course we are all horrified, but we don't get horrified so much when we read about executions in Texas for instance. So here you have the historical documents and the Russian director and writer being rather clever didn't just want to make an historical drama which is sort of boring. It's not boring, but it's just that. They also made it contemporary so you could relate it to what was happening in Russia at the time. So they started out in contemporary Russia, the Soviet Union, it was just before they broke it up so it was the Soviet Union then. It starts off in a mental institution with one of the inmates claiming to be the czar killer. He knows too many fine details about this, but how can it be because it was 77 years ago? So what the hell, he couldn't possibly be the czar killer. A new doctor comes and he takes an interest in Timofeyev's case and it becomes a sort of chess match that takes place - a sort of verbal fencing. I play Timofeyev and Oleg Yankovsky - I hope I pronounced it correctly for the Russian people in the audience. He's a wonderful, wonderful actor. He played the doctor and then it cuts back in time and I play Yurovsky and he plays the czar. There is the setup for you and the chess match goes on through.
    I said to Karen, "You know it's really weird being in a real sort of asylum, a mental institution, because of all the connotations it that it has to us in the west. Torture, dissidence, calling them mad and the rest of it." He said, "Yeah, yeah." That was about  it, that was all I got from him. He liked very much the way western actors worked because we in the west' since making movies are so damned expensive' you get to the set and are ready to shoot. You rehearse and boom you're right in. When the Russian actors got to the set they wanted to talk. And boy could they talk! So we'd talk about it. I'd listen in vaguely and pick up the odd word and translation there. They would talk about it for days! I mean days! Because they make films like they do plays. There's no financial restraint because they get paid $20 a month regardless what they do so who cares? We'll take our time. I go, "Oh, I have a contract." He goes, "We will honor the treaty."
    Here's another tidbit - the differences of shooting in Russia. I was dressed in my boots, the coat and everything ready to shoot at 8 o' clock, waiting for somebody to pick me up. No knock on the door and I'm waiting, waiting. 12 o' clock arrives, there's a knock on the door, the man comes in and he goes, "Very sorry. Karen drunk, cameraman drunk."  Wow. Anyway, thank you for coming and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.



The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is presenting the Dream Catcher: Films by Karen Shakhnazarov, Dec 3-6 with Jazzmen, Vanished Empire, Courier, Zero City, The Rider Named Death and most importantly what they call The Tsar Assassin at 7:45 pm Friday, December 5, 2008 in the Remis Auditorium. Director present. Members, seniors, students $8; General admission $10. Official site



Timofeyev close-up from poster
Timofeyev in the doctor's office

Yurovsky in the house where the Tsar is prisoner

Yurovsky with cigarette

VHS Cover Front - US

VHS Cover Front - Russia

Movie Poster

Q&A with Malcolm

At the NY premiere of the film in New York 5/24/02


From The 44th annual Cannes Film Festival 1991 - The film examines the guilt that Soviets feel for a revolution and period of Communist rule which many now see as a costly failure. "I think there is even an attempt to find some of the secrets of the Russian personality," commented Yankovsky. Executive Producer Ben Brahms says the film "offers a rare insight into the Soviet mentality and the country's unhappy relationship with its own history."

"Why they want a British actor to play the man who killed the Tsar I can't imagine - but the director and co-writer, Karen Shakhnazarov, told me that when he was scripting he had a picture of me (as Caligula - Alex) on the wall. It is a brilliant script and I really wanted to go to Russia." - Malcolm on getting the role.

     "It did well. Huge. The biggest audience I think for this film (Caligula) is in Russia. In fact it was so big, the mother of a director saw this film in 1980 something and sold her son that you must work with this actor who was in "Caligula" you see. He then of course saw the film, all on pirate copies. He was writing the script called the "Assassin of the Tsar", a very, very good script as it turns out. He told me he had my picture as Caligula doing one of these (holds his arm up high, pointing) in their office. (laughs) 
     Anyway he offered me this film, he told me I was that I was the first foreign actor ever to play a Russian in a Russian film. I don't know if that was true or not, but that was the claim he made. I was so fascinated with the script and with this man Karen Shakhnazarov that I decided to go to the Soviet Union to do it. It was in 1991 just as Gorbachov was coming to the end of his power. 
     When you go to Russia they use anything they can get. For instance to reflect the lights they'll use aluminum foil from the oven. We'd wrap a turkey in it, they'd use it as a reflector. I played two parts in this film. One a madman and the actual assassin of the Tsar and the families. A man called Yurovsky, historical fact. The first part I had to be younger so they decided to color my hair. I went to see the make up lady in Moscfilm itself. It's the huge studio right in the middle of Moscow where all these great movies were made, the Einstein movies and all that. It's very strange because there are weeds everywhere and this sort of maraudering dogs. We're doing a scene and suddenly 15 or 20 dogs suddenly came through and I'm saying "Excuse me, what are all these dogs part of the?" No, no get them out. Shoo them out. They were just there, they live there, that's it wild dogs. They're were going to tint my hair, I expected a little clear all or something, whatever it is. She got out some cologne and then they got this carbon paper from a typewriter. It still had the imprints of this sort of Russian alphabet on it. I said "What the?" Then she got out a toothbrush, dipped it in the cologne on my hair and I thought "My god this is going to be horrendous." And you know what, it was perfect. It was just the right color of blue-black. (laughs) 
     I could only do it of course in English. So that I would do it in English, then the poor Russian actors must've loved me for this they, but they had to learn it phonetically in English and do it in Russian as well. So we'd shoot it first in Russian. I'd do my English then I'd look and I would figure out when it was my turn to speak just by the look in their eye. "It's your turn bud" one of those. Then I would say my lines. I seemed to understand it well because they were acting in their own language. But when it came to do in English, it was impossible (mumbles). You go ah, I see yes. It completely threw me until I kind of got used to it.
     I had a speech in this thing, went on for twelve pages. One speech, a monologue. So I thought...I do remember the first line, "In 1853 I was born in Tomsk" and then the guy went on to tell you exactly what he did, every single day of his life from then on it. I thought there's no way I'm going to learn all this. I'll talk to the director, I'll get the cuts. I go up to him and I said, "Look Karin, can we talk about this speech, I'd like to do a few little trims right now so I don't have to do it all. I've got some cuts here, what do you think?" "NO, Mike" He couldn't call me Malc. Mike. "No Mike, Russian like to talk you have to learn everything." I said, "Well Karen you know if I was somebody watching this film I'd literally go out to the bathroom, take a dump, come back and the guy's still talking about Tomsk." I mean you can't be? It took me two weeks to learn it. He had one camera only zooming in this on the whole speech, which took twelve minutes to film. Of course when I see the movie half of it's cut." (laughs) From Tom Snyder 1998

Summary - Official Mini

Timofeyev, a patient in a present-day Moscow hospital, has suffered for many years from a delusion that he is the assassin of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, and his grandson, Nicholas II in 1918. At last, however, he believes he is cured and has even discussed being discharged from hospital. But there are disturbing signs that Timofeyev has not yet completely recovered. Records show that each year, on the anniversary of the deaths, he develops a sympathetic wound or illness.

My Summary

    The film starts out in a desert area with a snake slithering by in an area of ancient ruins and a women narrator quotes an excerpt of Daniel 5:1-30 from an old Bible.
    "Belshazzar gave a feast to 1000 of his lords and drank wine before the 1000. Whilst he tasted the wine Belshazzar commanded to bring out the gold and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple, which was in Jerusalem. They brought the golden vessels and the king and his lords and his wives and his concubines drank from them. In that same hour came forth a man's hand and wrote on the wall of the king's palace and the king's countenance had changed. The queen spoke unto the king 'Let Daniel be called and he will show you an interpretation of the thing.' Morning Daniel was brought before the king and Daniel said unto the king 'O Belshazzar thou has lifted up thyself against the lords of heaven and they have brought the vessels of his hands before thee and thou has drunk wine in them. And thou has praised the gods of silver and gold, brass, iron, wood and stone which see not nor hear nor know. And the god in whose hand thy breath is and whose are all thy ways hast not glorified.' In that night was Belshazzar King of the Chaldeans slain." 
        A man narrates how in 1893 he led a group who planned to assassinate the tsar. They knew the route he was taking to the Winter Palace and planted a bomb in the road. At the last minute the route was changed, but they knew he would have to go across a certain bridge on the new route. He and his cohorts positioned themselves for the new ambush and when the tsars horse drawn carriage passed one of the conspirators tossed a bomb that blew up the back wheel. Tsar Nicholas emerged unhurt and walked over to the man and wanted to know his name. While he was doing this Timofeyev runs out and critically wounds the tsar and kills his son with his bomb. Upon capture they asked to know his name and he told them he didn't know. The soldiers later cut his head off and put it on a post outside the place for public recognition.
    The man is Timofeyev, a patient in a mental institution in Russia, and has been interned there for 18 years. The new doctor, Smirnov, meets with all the patients as is customary. Timofeyev explains why he doesn't move too well. It is because he had to go through the snow as a solider with no boots and his feet froze and he lost all his toes. He relates the incredible story about his past life as it was told to him by a little girl named Eva who visits him sometimes. The doctor is transfixed by this story and can't understand how Timofeyev knows all these things from 100 years ago that no man could know. He also wonders why no one looked into this man's story while he was in the hospital.
     The next day Smirnov is very upset to see what has happened to Timofeyev. When he visits him he sees a large blue bruise across his neck and asks Timofeyev what has happened and he doesn't even know it is there. Smirnov then demands that the orderly explain to him how such abuse is allowed in this prestigious institution. The man assures him that no one has touched him or tried to strangle him and that the wound is not self inflicted. Smirnov knows that isn't possible. He tells him the bruise appears every year and that he can check it out in Timofeyev's records. Smirnov checks the records and finds out the man was telling the truth.
    Smirnov invites Aleksandr Yegorovich, the doctor whom he replaced, over to his apartment to talk about Timofeyev. His place is extremely small with only two rooms. His girlfriend Maria is there and the men want to talk in private so she goes into the kitchen to make tea. After she leaves Yegorovich comments on how long and beautiful her legs are and how he hasn't seen anything quite like them.
    Smirnov asks him  why he never attempted to get to the bottom of Timofeyev's condition. After all the years he was with him he can't understand why he never did anything about it. Yegorovich warns him that there are some things that we aren't meant to understand. He should just leave it be. He then asks him about the bruise and he tells him it appears on March 3rd of every year and did Smirnov know the significance of that date. He does not.  He explains that it was the date that the original assassin was beheaded. Then what is it - auto-suggestion maybe? It is possible and it always disappears after a few days. He also tells him that in the Autumn Timofeyev gets horrible stomach ulcers. The assassin who killed the grandson died of a stomach ulcer in 1938. The doctor wants to get into his head and find out why he thinks he killed the tsar. 
    The tsar lived in the palace and had a routine at dinner every night. The tsar would sit in the middle of the table with the prince on the right. He would drink his brandy then allow the others to eat. After dinner he would smoke a cigarette very fest, then signal to the men that they could smoke. Then he would light up for a second cigarette and take his time. By doing this it showed he was nervous. Then he would get up and the group would follow him to the study. Halfway there he would turn and bow and the group would leave as he entered the study alone.
    The next day the Dr. Smirnov is talking to Timofeyev and asks if he still thinks he is the assassin. He tells him he only felt that way when he was sick, but he is fine now. "No more visits from Eva?", he asks. No, he tells him. The doctor then eggs him on by asking how his stomach is feeling. Does it hurt? Timofeyev says it does, a terrible pain and then collapses on the floor.  
    Once again Smirnov calls on Yegorovich and Aleksandr invites him over for dinner. The first thing he wants to know is if he is still with the girlfriend with the exquisite legs. He assures him he is. Smirnov asks how is it that Timofeyev believes he killed the tsar. Yegorovich explains he is delusional, like how some people think they are Caligula or Napoleon. 
    Yurovsky had a nice little business after WWI. He ran a photography studio and tells of a couple that came to see him one day in 1918. The man was a soldier who was called up and wanted a picture with his pretty wife before he left. Yurovsky's assistant wasn't around so he took the picture himself. The soldier was going to return for it the next day, but he never saw them again. He tells a boy working for him to close the studio for a few days and goes off on his bike to the meeting point at the train station where they are to capture the tsar and his family, but is too late. The attack has already taken place and they are in custody.
    The doctor then gets him to tell the story of the tsars men who were followed to a cemetery and then murdered. This gives them the information they need to capture the tsar. The tsar talks about how he is the empire and needs to be the empire, but the people hate him for it. That is the way it must be. Yurovsky and his rebels have them in a secluded mansion. The family and tsars' close friends number 12 and have their own little private home upstairs. The tsar reads to them the days events in a paper including one about the disappearance of a young girl.    
    That night Dr. Smirnov has sex with Maria and gets up in the middle of the night. Maria goes over to him and strokes his hair and is shocked to find out there is a scar on his head and he is bleeding. He isn't sure how it got there and decides not to go to work the next day.
    The next day the patients are getting their meds and Timofeyev asks the orderly if Smirnov is sick and the orderly is surprised and tells him he is. Timofeyev walks away with a wicked grin.
    Dr. Smirnov once again speaks with Yegorovich and tells him about the wound. Yegorovich thinks he must have dreamt it. He tells him it isn't possible and that there was a scar on his head for 24 hours that wasn't there before and then suddenly vanished. Yegorovich explains how when the tsar was a child he was taken around on a tour of Japan. One day he was in a temple and began to relieve himself and one of the horrified Japanese guards swung at his head with a saber. One of the tsars men was able to deflect the blow a bit, but the future tsar had a scar on his head a few centimeters long for the rest of his life. 
    Yegorovich sees Timofeyev as he sweeps the snow out of the parking lot when he leaves and goes to talk to him. He tells him he could be transferred to a better institution if he wanted, but Timofeyev explains that it is OK there and he has gotten used to it.
    The tsar talks about being captured and is trying to find out what day it is because he probably knows the execution day is today. His wife tells him one day and the son assures him it is not that day when using the proper calendar.
    That night Yurovsky goes in to check on the tsar and sees a woman outside crying for her daughter that is lost and asks Yurovsky if he has seen her. He has not and tells her not to stay there. He goes in and one of the guards tells him the nuns have left fresh eggs for the family. Yurovsky takes the basket of eggs in himself to check on them and leaves.
    The grandson of Tsar Nicholas remembers going in to see his grandfather dying after the assassination. He dies a bad death, but the grandson realizes he will be killed and his death will be 100 times worse. Now Smirnov knows he has gone too far into a world he doesn't understand, but he wants to follow it through to the end believing in fact that he is now the tsar. 
    The next day Yegorovich sees Smirnov as they are at the market getting food. Smirnov doesn't look so good and Yegorovich tells him to walk away, he is in too deep. Smirnov says a cryptic line, "I have to know why he killed me" and leaves.
    Timofeyev continues his story. He gets the order that the family must be killed that day. He once again rides his bicycle to the house where the tsar is confined and the crying woman is there again. Yurovsky tells the guards to find ten pistols and take them out to a field and fire them to make sure that they work. He watches the tsar from the window in a courtyard. Timofeyev sees the tsar talking to his daughter and asks Smirnov if he remembered what he said to her that day. He tells him it wasn't anything special, but that when he saw Yurovsky looking at him from the window he knew it was the day he would die, but he wasn't scared. He asks Timofeyev if his daughter died fast that day. He told him no, she was shot, but had to be finished off with bayonets later. 
    He also tells how he met with Lenin for ten minutes and discussed his ideas and Lenin gave him a post. He never mentioned the orders, but he knew the orders had come down from Lenin directly. He felt like it was him and Lenin who accomplished everything.
    One of the boys was to be spared and they needed to get him out of the room without raising suspicion. So Yurovsky goes in and tells him the boy's uncle wished to see him and he was whisked away. Smirnov asks what happened to him, if he was killed. He didn't know. He was taken to a safe house and was lost track of years later.
    Later that night Yurovsky tells the tsar's doctor that he must get everyone ready to leave because there is unrest in the town and they are afraid of attack. He gets them all ready and Yurovsky leads them downstairs into a small room and tells them to wait. He goes to a room next door where ten men are waiting with guns. One man says he and his friend won't shoot the women and Yurovsky is forced to take their guns and give them to two other guards. He takes them over to the room, has them check their guns and enters. He tells the family to line up against the wall and the men open fire shooting them all and leaving them for dead.
    He tells how they loaded the bodies into a truck and took them around six miles to an abandoned coal mine and threw them in. The mine wasn't deep enough so the next day they came back and reloaded the bodies into the truck, took them to a remote location, dug a pit, threw them in, burned them, smashed them, filled it in and drove over it with the truck. The bodies were never found.
    The doctor is then shown being taken out of the hospital - like the tsar in the story, he is dead.
    One of the leaders meets with Yurovsky to check on his work. The house is in a shambles and he notices a swastika drawn on the wall. The man tells him it is an ancient symbol and tells how the tsar was like Belshazzar. He taunts Yurovsky as a son of a junkman who took down the most powerful dynasty in history. He is now a living piece of history himself.
    The last shot we see is Timofeyev the next day doing his menial work at the hospital with the others and in good health.

My Review

    This certainly is an amazing film and one of the best I've ever seen. Malcolm totally shines and it is easily his signature film of the 1990s. It's really a shame that it hasn't been shown more than a small handful of times at festivals. It's hard to believe it is over ten years old and still remains largely unseen in America. People who think of Malcolm as this actor who does only B movie type villain roles need to see this film to shut them up. People who think Malcolm hasn't done a good film since the 70s really need to see this to see how ignorant they are.
    I first saw it around five years ago on a grainy VHS copy and even seeing it on the big screen with years to think about it, I'm still not sure of how Timofeyev knows what he does. I even asked Malcolm about it, but he admitted he didn't know either! Maybe the director will get a chance to explain when it is released in the US, hopefully as an audio commentary on the DVD. Even though the film was made on almost no budget, it looks as good as any big budget US film. Everyone involved should be proud of what was accomplished with this film.
    The film was shot where the historical events actually took place. Those that weren't available were recreated to exact specifications. It was the first Western + Russian production and the first to be made as the Soviet Union collapsed and communism ended. 
    If you strip the story down it is really a duel of the minds between doctor and patient. Of course the doctor being a doctor is a bit arrogant and thinks he can outwit the "mental patient". This is his downfall and he is soon sucked into a world he can't ever hope to escape from. The previous doctor knew this and stayed out of it, but didn't really give a serious warning not to meddle in what he didn't understand to his protégé.
    Like ACO and if.... this is a perfect film. How many actors can be as strong on screen even 20 years after they started? I can't think of any flaws at all. The acting is solid all the way around, the story is tight, the settings are stunning, the camerawork is simple, yet highly effective - just the way I like it. What is not to love? So the story is a bit ambiguous, especially the introduction - what are we getting into?, but it makes you think and any film that can accomplish that is truly rare these days.
    It is a cruel twist of fate that Malcolm's only two roles from the 90's where he carries the entire film have not been widely seen. They are this film and "The Light in the Jungle" which ran into copyright difficulties. These prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the man can carry a film even now, but has to take the smaller roles to keep working.
    Hopefully word will spread and the film will make its long overdue US release and everyone who never had the chance to see it will finally be able to do so. Malcolm says it is his life-long friend Mike Kaplan's goal to make this happen and I am confident he can do it. Even though it has been available on VHS for many years, only a proper release to the independent theaters would even begin to do it justice. It must been seen on the big screen to truly enjoy it's wonders.

Rating 10/10


When the boundary between life and dream is erased...the terror begins.

Why Malcolm is So Popular in Russia

    In Russia a lot of the active movie-goers are people in their 30s and 40s, whose youth belonged to the early 90s - the time when the VCR finally became popular in Russia, the so-called video-era. After decades of catching foreign films only rarely in the theaters, suddenly there was a flood of them available. All kinds of films - the classics, the B-movies, everything and a lot of those movies were the older ones, simply because they were cheaper to release on video. So those groups became exposed to Malcolm's older works. And I think the similar-aged American audience tended to watch the 'current' films, and watching the older films, indie films, European films, etc, is more typical for movie buffs, people who are specifically interested in them. So if you ask an average 35 year old American about MM (in general, not the latest films), he's likely to say ACO or Star Trek, whereas a Russian man would begin with Caligula, Cat People, and OLM! Especially OLM, since it was one of the few "Western" films which the Soviet government adored and allowed to be shown in the theaters and at the festivals, many times. Since it was a satire, a critique of the British society, it was described as a progressive director's vision, and Lindsay Anderson was praised for his "anti-capitalistic" views. And my own father remembers Blue Thunder at the Moscow movie festival in the early 80s - it was practically the first real American action movie to hit the Soviet screens - was an extremely rare thing. The theaters were stuffed full. Then, in the early 90s, he arrived to make the Assassin of the Tsar, the first Western actor to play the title part in a Russian film and there was a lot of interest concerning the tsar, and a lot of press. - Exclusive to this site by Loose Diamonds

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