By Barbara Shulgasser

San Francisco Examiner, April 4, 1997

“The Mystery of the Last Tsar” about Tsar Nicholas II
and family

In 1918, Bolsheviks walked Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, daughters, son, maid and doctor into a small basement room of a building in a remote Siberian town and opened fire. We know this now, but for years the rumors that the Romanovs were massacred remained unconfirmed, as no bodies were found.

“The Mystery of the Last Tsar” is a thorough documentary piecing together the imperial family’s demise through the examination of rumors, legends, newly opened Soviet archives and scientific research. Lured by claims that a curious ex-KGB agent had discovered the mass grave of the Romanovs in 1979 and had been silenced until the collapse of the Soviet regime, Victoria Lewis went to Ekaterinburg in 1991 to begin her work.

The film is full of archival footage of Nicholas and his family enjoying their privileges. It also covers the uprising of the masses against 300 years of repressive imperial rule in 1917. There are interesting side trips, including a segment on Gregory Rasputin and his eerie hold on the Tsarina Alexandra and her hemophiliac son, Alexei, as well as the story of Anna Anderson, a woman who claimed she was Anastasia, the imperial daughter whose body was supposedly never accounted for.

Most fascinating are the speculations of forensic and DNA experts, the latter having concluded that the battered skeletons found in the shallow grave were indeed the tsar and his family. For comparison, they used donated DNA from Prince Phillip, who was related to the Russian royal family on his mother’s side.

Excerpts from the dairies of Yakov Yurovsky, the head of the execution squad, make events of 80 years ago seem frighteningly contemporary. In retrospect, the whole affair is politics as usual.