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Thursday 13th September 2012

Even though my new sitcom Ra-Ra Rasputin is going to take some massive liberties with history - I want to do an episode where Rasputin saves the toffs on the Titanic and the poor people accept that they must die to preserve their betters and also Lenin is going to live in a massive undersea base and invent psychedelic music whilst taking LSD - I do feel the need to research the period and the characters properly. That involves a lot of reading which is generally quite tiring, but today I did the fun kind of research that involves watching telly. You'd think I already had every book and film about Rasputin (though many of the films are in useless video format), but today a box arrived with some more stuff and I tucked into a BBC documentary about the murder of the mad monk (an ex CID man decides, with rather patchy evidence, that secret British agent Oswald Rayner delivered the final show - I'd say Prince Dmitri Pavlovich is just as likely a candidate) and then rewatched the 1971 Oscar winning film Nicholas and Alexandra, which seemed a bit more heavy-handed and mawkish than I remembered, but does include my favourite ever movie Rasputin, Tom Baker who is delightfully nuts. For some reason they decide to concoct their own version of Rasputin's murder where the conspirators (apart from the sober Purishkevich) are high on drugs, with some strong homosexual overtones (they get a member of an orchestra who are inexplicably playing upstairs to come down and dress as a woman and dance for Rasputin). The doped up aristocrats keep babbling about cyanide and Tom Baker chastises them for not being able to kill him properly. It's all quite odd.
Though given that the accounts given by Purishkevich and Yusopov are pretty much obvious and contradictory bollocks I suppose it's all right for this film just to make up a different story. I know I am going to. That's what I love about this. It's history but it's already totally mythologised. We're not even 100 years away from this event.
The film takes itself a bit seriously and has some hammy acting from Laurence Olivier as a politician who is forever warning the Tsar about how foolish his actions are (almost as if he has the benefit of hindsight) and various posh British actors portraying Russian peasantry as strong and noble victims. Even though it's all a little over the top it does bring home just how sad and tragic this time was and it sometimes felt a bit inappropriate that I was thinking of turning all this into a knockabout comedy. But the darkness will (I hope) make the inappropriateness more amusing.
It's extraordinary how much power Nicholas had and how useless he as and how long he managed to carry on despite that. If only he'd listened to Laurence Olivier then what a different world we might all be living in. Except that had he managed to back off from World War and had created a democracy (both things that he could easily have achieved) then the modern world would be completely different and none of us would be here. The decisions made by Nicholas led, indirectly, to your birth (unless you're as old as my grandma) and it's certain that you wouldn't be here unless all of that other stuff had occurred. Different people would have lived and died, different couples would have got together, different people would have been born. Even the tiniest change in history one hundred years ago would pretty much guarantee a completely different cast of characters on the earth today. So we personally have to thank Nicholas II for being such a douche, (and by that logic have to thank Hitler for everything he did) because without his incomprehensible confidence in his divine right to rule we wouldn't be here to be able to laugh at how stupid he was.
I managed to locate a copy of the script of the 1993 stage version of Ra-Ra Rasputin and hoped it might contain some great gags and ideas that I could put in the new script. But it doesn't really. I suppose it's a positive thing that I am capable of doing this better now that I am older and there is a charm in the deliberate crassness and crapness of the original (and there will be more of that in the new version), but it's not as good as I remembered it being. I can understand why the Perrier jury (who all turned up one Monday afternoon when they were the only people in the audience) all sat staring at us in disbelief without laughing at all (though William Cook, the journalist, who was on the panel that year had vociferously championed it apparently). But even though they were right to spot that it was pretty much rubbish, I will have the last laugh if this project ever makes it to our screens.
But then back then I hadn't had the idea to have a character who isn't really based on any historical figure played by a very famous actor acting much too hard and speaking with the benefit of hindsight. Thanks to Nicholas and Alexandra for giving me that idea. Is Laurence Olivier available to play it?


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