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2016 A Great Year for Russophiles

On the TV, BBC2’s showing of ‘Leningrad and the Orchestra that Defied Hitler’ examines Dmitry Shostakovich’s 7th (Leningrad) Symphony, performed in 1942 when the city was under siege and credited with helping to break the blockade. Amanda Vickery (not sure why she’s been chosen to present on Russia when there are plentiful specialist Russian / Soviet historians around who could have done the job) outlines the historical context (see if you can pick up the historiographical controversies she happily skips over) and Tom Service provides insight to the breath-taking music. If you didn’t see it on Saturday 2 January, try to get it on catch-up before it disappears, or see it here.


BBC1’s much-promoted adaptation by Andrew Davies of Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace runs over six weeks from Sunday 3 January. Reports suggest that this is a rather ‘sexed-up’ version of the original story and it’s difficult to see how so much (an unbroken reading of the novel is reported to have taken 60 hours) can be crammed into 6 broadcast hours, but let’s give it a go. Here’s a trailer.

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BBC 4 begins its three-part series ‘Empire of the Tsars: Romanov Russia’ on Wednesday 6 January. This is presented by another TV history stalwart, Lucy Worsley (again, why her? I’ll try not to get annoyed by her presenting style). It’s yet to be seen who will be called upon to offer expert testimony and which historiographical questions will be swept under the carpet, but, again, let’s give it a go. Here’s the trailer.

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At the cinema, showings of the documentary film Red Army (director: Gabe Polsky, 2014) are in evidence in January – you’ll probably need to look to the independent cinemas rather than the big multiplex screens. Focusing on the men’s Red Army ice hockey team, the film moves from the Soviet past to the Russian present and documents how sport mirrors social and cultural realities. For a taster, there are several clips available on YouTube.

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Coming soon is Bolshoi Babylon (directors: Nick Read,Mark Franchetti, 2015), which documents the inner workings, the highs and lows of the world-famous and prestigious ballet theatre. The Bolshoi ballet company was rocked in 2013 by a much-reported acid attack on its director, which left him blind in one eye and one of the principal dancers on trial. The film is a real treat for fans of Russian classical dance and the Bol’shoi Ballet in particular. As with sport, the understanding of Russian ballet today cannot be separated from post-Soviet politics and society. For the official trailer, see here.

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Before it disappears (on 13 March 2016) don’t forget the Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age exhibition currently showing at the Science Museum in London which displays artefacts from the glory days of Soviet space travel. It’s rather expensive to get in, but concessions are available (£12 for students). For more details, see here.

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Finally, don’t forget:

There is a History field trip to London on Wednesday 13 January.

History Dissertation Day takes place at the Wilson from 12.30 on Thursday 14 January.

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