The show's talking heads both enrich and flatten. Occasionally, earnest scenes are wittily undercut by the historians. Simon Montefiore, the LA Times British Book Award-winning author whose tome The Romanovs 1613-1918 is one of the sources for the show, pithily notes during a tender lovemaking scene between Nicholas and Alexandra, "They're one of the only royal couples in Europe who share a marital bed."
Occasionally the views of historians come into conflict with what we see taking place on screen. After Nicholas steps down as Czar, he greets someone by saying, "Hello, I'm the medieval regime." This self-awareness is at odds with the dogmatic decision maker the historians characterize him as. Even Alexandra and Rasputin's relationship is both amplified and undercut, creating an odd dynamic. As historian Pablo De Orellana contextualizes it as a psychiatric relationship, what we see on screen very much transgresses those boundaries. The show does well by Nicholas and Alexandra, played to great effect by Robert Jack and Susanna Herbert. Rasputin is a mixed bag, however, even if Ben Cartwright's charismatic performance does the heavy lifting. Thankfully, he isn't depicted as a charismatic sociopath but the show struggles to bridge the gap between the man and myth.
An odd choice on the show is its use of accents. "I can't even speak Russian," Alexandra tells her sister who fixes her wedding veil in an immaculate BBC English accent, the same one sported by all the Romanovs. As the show moves past the fall of the monarchy, fewer characters use a crisp, posh accent, transitioning to more characters speaking with (bad) Russian accents. Alexandra's disconnect with the Russian people had much to do with xenophobia about her German origins and inability to speak Russian well, something the show points out early on. Yet in a series where every character speaks English, language as a marker of difference isn't satisfyingly depicted. Moreover, there are inaccuracies and anachronisms even non-historians like me can point out: For example, an image of the Red Square in 1905 shows Lenin's mausoleum, almost two decades before Lenin's death.
The lack of Russian historians contributes to a show that feels removed from its subject. In the first episode, Sergei notes about the stampede at Khodynka, "It is only a tragedy if you make it one." The contentiousness of historiography, especially with Western historians' propensity to retroactively rehabilitate the Romanovs, could have been encapsulated in a show with Russian inputs. As the credits played over the final episode of The Last Czars, the words "This series is based on the events. Some of the characters and situations have been altered for dramatization purposes," flashed on screen. I cringed. What's the point of a history lesson if the historian isn't upfront about their own biases?