Here’s a film that has it all: naval battles, mutiny, revolution, civil war, brave men, beautiful women, sin, sacrifice, and betrayal on multiple levels. But “Admiral” («Адмиралъ»), which opened in Russia this month, is notable for another reason: this is the first major film depicting the tsarist White Russians as the good guys to receive at least part of its funding from the Russian government. The eponymous hero of the film is Alexander Kolchak, the naval commander and polar explorer who later led part of the White Army fighting the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War.
Born into a naval family in St. Petersburg in 1874, Kolchak graduated from the Imperial Naval College at age twenty and began service in the tsar’s fleet. He made three polar expeditions with the Russian Academy of Sciences, including the one in which Baron Eduard von Toll, renowned expert in Siberian paleontology, went missing and died. For his efforts in exploration, Kolchak was awarded the highest honor of the Russian Geographical Society.
In the Russo-Japanese War, Kolchak commanded the Sokol-class destroyer Serdityi and sunk the Japanese cruiser Takasago. When the war ended, he participated in the rebuilding of the Russian Navy which had been severely reduced by the Asian war, and was on the Naval General Staff from 1906.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, Kolchak was a high-ranking officer in the Baltic Fleet combating the rather significant German Navy. Withing two years, however, he was the youngest officer to be promoted to Vice-Admiral, and replaced Admiral Andrei Eberhardt as Commander of the Black Sea Fleet in August 1916.
Kolchak was removed from his command after a series of mutinies and disturbances among the sailors of the Black Sea Fleet contemporary to the upheavals of the February Revolution of 1917. He was sent to visit the Allied nations as a military observer and envoy instead, and travelled to Britain, America, and Japan. When the Bolsheviks seized power in the October Revolution, Kolchak volunteered his services to the British Army, and the General Staff seriously considered sending him to Mesopotamia. Whitehall, however, felt Kolchak would be more useful fighting the Bolsheviks in Russia, and the admiral returned to Russia and joined the White forces with which he gained his greatest renown.
Twentieth Century Fox got behind the director Andrei Kravchuk’s film of Admiral Kolchak’s life, with most of the funding coming from the state-controlled Channel One. The film has opened in 1,247 cinemas across Russia — a record — and Variety reports that by its first weekend “Admiral” had earned $13.2 million from over 2 million ticket sales. Kolchak the movie looks well-set to recoup the budget invested, $20 million. “While the film’s budget does not sound big to a U.S. audience,” the Discovery Institute’s Russia Blog writes, “Russian filmmakers have proved once again that they can outpace Hollywood’s production with a tenth of a Hollywood film’s budget. Also, unlike Hollywood, most of Russia’s blockbusters are historic novels put on film.”
Comparing “Admiral” to the Western box-office hit “Titanic”, co-producer Anatoly Maximov told Reuters that the film “is a story of love amid extreme catastrophe but this time it’s not a ship which is sinking, it’s the entire country”.
“It’s very important we talk about our history, our country, our officers,” director Andrei Kravchuk said. “If we understand that we had such a history, such people… we can fill ourselves with dignity, and the notion of motherland and patriotism, which can seem worn and tarnished, gains new, concrete, visible meaning.”
“Admiral” is but the latest in the recent revival in Russian cinema. Eighty-five Russian films were released in 2007 and another 200 are currently in production, compared to just forty-two releases a decade before. While much of the funding for this flourishing industry comes from the commercial sector, the Russian government is estimated to provide as much as a third of all funding for Russian films. The cinematography department of the Ministry of Culture invested $80 million in feature films in 2007, a figure that rose to $85 million for this current year.
What is perhaps most remarkable about the current renaissance is that most of the films have been long high-quality historical dramas that have also proved successful at Russian box offices. Subjects and time periods have ranged from as long ago as Alexander Nevsky to as recently as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but most tend to take place during the rule of the tsars.
“Admiral” also shows the help the White Army received from Great Britain, the United States, and France. These three countries all sent troops to fight alongside the Whites, who also counted Poles and Czechs among their ranks. It was the “Czechoslovaks” who betrayed Admiral Kolchak in the end, stealing a great portion of the tsarist gold reserve and high-tailing it back to Prague where the legionnaires set up a bank with their ill-gotten gains.
The creation of “Admiral” is a most welcome development, and one that we hope will be imitated in Russia (as it obviously will be) but elsewhere in Europe and the European diaspora. It’s heartening that both Russia is slowly but surely coming to terms with the great evil of her revolution. Equally, however, it is a great disappointment that the United States not only fails to grasp the evil of its revolution, but still foolishly persists in propagating it around the globe, often at the point of a gun.
Trailers & more pictures after the break.
Official Trailer (with English subtitles)