Updated On: November 06, 2023 by   Aya Radwan   Aya Radwan  

Russian cultural history is full of renowned writers and poets, such as Maxim Gorki, Leo Tolstoy, and Antoine Chekov, some of whose novels have multiple screen adaptations. Russian period dramas weave politics with charm, sophistication, and mystery. They allow us to dive deep into the history, traditions, costumes, and intriguing world of Tsarist Russia, and we discover how this mighty empire disintegrated. Here are some of our favourite Russian period dramas to binge-watch:

Poor Nastya

Poor Nastya or Bednaya Nastya is a Russian telenovela that entertains several intertwined love stories and political schemes. The protagonist, Anastasia, is a prince’s illegitimate daughter, and life forces her to hide at Baron Ivan Ivanovich Korff’s house, who happens to be her father’s friend. The baron’s son Vladimir secretly loves Anastasia, but he hides it with his proud attitude. On the other hand, Anastasia falls in love with Mikhail, Vladimir’s best friend, and events escalate. The intertwined love stories bring together Vladimir and his childhood love Liza Petrovna, Crown Prince Alexander Nikolayevich and his mistress Olga then his love and marriage to Princess Maria Alexandrovna.

Historical era: the 19th century.

Length: 127 episodes.

Catherine the Great

When Emperor Peter III first met young Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst as a kid, he had no idea she’d become his future wife and the one to end his reign. However, Princess Sophie disliked and disapproved of Peter’s behaviour since she first saw him as children. As fate would have it, after their marriage, the now-empress overthrew her husband. The princess became Empress Catherine, or as she is widely referred to, Catherine the Great. Despite the initial condemnation from the Russian nobility for overthrowing her husband, Catherine won them over. These nobles became the Empress’s greatest helpers in enforcing legal, political, and educational reforms in Tsarist Russia.

Historical era: the 18th century.

Length: 24 episodes.

Ash

An army commander and a thief make a life-changing swap that will change both their lives forever. In this plot-twisting show, fate puts Ash, a thief, in the way of Igor Petrov, an army commander, on the run from his unit. Petrov has the craziest ideas for the two to exchange identities so they can start anew. Over the run of this Russian period drama, we see that despite Igor’s continuation of evading the authorities, in ten years’ time, nothing will remain the same. By the end of Ash, one of the two men becomes a local hero while the other goes down a spiral of crime and terrorises people.

• Historical era: the 20th century.

Length: 10 episodes.

Lenin: Revolution Chronicles/ Demon of the Revolution

Alexander Parvus is a Russian theoretician who escapes from his exile and seeks refuge in Germany. Once there, Parvus lures German officials into funding his plot to bring down the Russian Empire. After the German government agreed to fund his plan, Parvus first rallied the public in Russia against the monarchy, leading to Emperor Nicholas II’s abdication. Secondly, Parvus orchestrates the return of the Bolshevik leader, Vladimir Lenin. The Russian period drama also shows us how Russian counterintelligence worked to prevent Parvus from reaching his goals.

Historical era: the 20th century.

• Length: 6 episodes.

Onegin

When the empathy-lacking Onegin inherits his uncle’s estate in the Russian countryside, he leaves the boredom of St Petersburg to tend to the estate. Upon arrival, Onegin meets and befriends his neighbour, Lensky, and the two become best friends. The cold-hearted Onegin meets Lensky’s fiancée and her sister Tatiana, who falls in love with the bored aristocrat. Soft-hearted Tatiana confesses her love to Onegin, who rejects her, only to run into her after six years when she is married to a prince. Onegin is a Russian period drama that portrays how regret can eat up a person’s heart.

Historical era: the beginning of the 19th century.

• Length: 106 minutes.

Detective Anna 1&2

Anna Mironova lives quietly in Zatonsk until she finds begging spirits haunting her every day. As Anna learns to overcome her initial fright, she realises her ability to see and hear the dead is a superpower and thus begins listening to help the trapped souls find peace. When the local police suspect Anna’s powers, they assign Yakov Shtolman to the alleged cases. However, Shtolman chooses to help Anna after he witnesses what her powers can do. This Russian period drama continues for a second season, where Anna and Shtolman must haunt the evil spirit terrorising Zatonsk, Anna’s hometown.

Historical era: end of the 19th century.

Length: 48 episodes.

Ancestral Land

The Morozov is a family of four, two brothers and two sisters, who escape to the Ural Mountains after miraculously avoiding death during the Second World War. As they find shelter in the mountains, life throws further turmoil their way.

Ancestral Land is a Russian period drama that reflects how the four siblings, Stepan, Alexey, Varvara and Aliona, learn to love one another, move past the losses they incurred during the war, and find solace in each other’s company.

Historical era: the 20th century.

• Length: 16 episodes.

Godunov

When Dmitry of Uglich, the rightful heir to the Russian Tsardom, mysteriously dies, the country welcomes its new tsar, Tsar Boris Godunov. The Boyars, or the Russian nobility, suspect Godunov’s ascension to the throne and pledge to wreak havoc in Russia. This Russian period drama follows Godunov’s and his family’s life in the imperial palace until his succession by Tsar Mikhail I Romanov. Historical characters in the show are accurately written, inspired by the novel Shipwreck near the Island of Hope; however, they invented a new backdrop for the dramatised show.

Historical era: late 16th and early 17th century.

• Length: 17 episodes.

The Fall of the Empire

German spies spread across Russia to gather intelligence that would tip the scales in favour of their country as WWI raged on. Russian counterintelligence seeks the expertise of veteran officer Sergei Pavlovich Kostin to feed German spies with false intelligence. In his mission, Kostin trusts his faithful sidekick, Ivan Karlovich Shtol’ts. This Russian period drama brings us the elements in play in covert affairs, espionage and underlying political schemes that went into the bloody First World War.

Historical era: the beginning of the 20th century.

Length: 10 episodes.

Bloody Mistress

Some compare her to the alleged serial killer Elizabeth Bathory her lust for blood. Even though Countess Darya Saltykova was a noblewoman by birth and marriage, this only fed her murderous behaviour. After her husband’s death, she inherited a massive estate with lands and servants. Due to the Countess’s noble connections, those who initially filed complaints against her were punished. Servants reported the Countess preferred using logs to torture her serfs to death, most of whom were women. Bloody Mistress is a Russian period drama that narrates the Bloody Countess’s vicious murders until her trial and imprisonment by Catherine the Great.

• Historical era: the 18th century.

• Length: 16 episodes.

The Terrible

Ivan IV was once a happy czar whose thriving personal and political life reflected well on the people and strength of the Russian Empire. However, after the sun’s brightest shine comes the night’s darkest hour, and Ivan IV’s darkest soul was born from the loss of all his loved ones; his wife and son. The Russian period drama, The Terrible, brings Ivan IV’s recount of his own life after Devlet-Girey, the Crimean Khan, raided and wiped down Moscow. The Russian czar lays down his weapons and starts to write his memoirs, and we begin to see the reasons behind the historical atrocities Ivan The Terrible committed when the devil controlled him.

Historical era: the last quarter of the 16th century.

• Length: 8 episodes.

Anna Karenina

Any list of Russian period dramas would be lacking without an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s passionate love story of Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky. This 2013 adaptation is one of our favourites. When beautiful Anna boards the train to Moscow to wring her brother out of his infidelity, she meets Count Vronsky. Despite Anna’s marriage to Count Karenin and Vronsky’s future marriage plans, an invisible bond forms between the two. The couple meets once more at a ball organised by Kitty, Vronsky’s betrothed, where they attract disapproving eyes. A forbidden love affair begins, and Anna’s life nears its end.

Historical era: the end of the 19th century.

• Length: 3 episodes.

The Dawns Here are Quiet

Fedot Vaskov is a veteran sergeant in charge of an anti-aircraft unit comprising five inexperienced female soldiers behind enemy lines during WWII. Vaskov’s unit spots German soldiers lurking in the woods who are set out to destroy the unit and open the way for German aircraft. The filmmakers take us through flashbacks to the unit’s journey until they reach their outpost in the woods. Will Vaskov and his unit successfully cut the way off the German soldiers?

Historical era: during WWII.

• Length: 111 minutes.

Dead Mountain: The Dyatlov Pass Incident

When Oleg Kostin, a KGB major, arrives at a crime scene deep in the Ural Mountains, he realises death is chasing him. He finds the bodies of nine students who went on a trekking trail in the mountains, but instead of reaching their destination, they turned out dead a month after they began their journey. The crime’s circumstances fill Oleg’s mind with suspicion, and he begins to investigate the reasons behind such atrocious deaths with the help of the local medical examiner, Katya. This Russian period drama is based on a real-life incident that shook the country, and the authorities later built a group tomb for the victims to honour their bravery.

• Historical era: 1959.

• Length: 8 episodes.

War and Peace

Leo Tolstoy’s four-part novel, War and Peace, has multiple TV and cinema adaptions, of which this is the most lavish. Tolstoy narrates the struggles five Russian noble families face in the period impending Napoleon’s invasion. The prince struggles to find peace after his wife’s death, earn his father’s support, and ward off the invading troops. Another aristocrat pretends to wallow over his illegitimate social status as he secretly dabbles in politics and unwillingly marries. Still, his fake wallowing somehow saves his life as Napoleon’s troops stomp Russian streets.

• Historical era: the 19th century.

• Length: 4 episodes.

Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes

Zuleikha and her husband were kulaks who lived in a small Tatar village during Communist Russia. When the Russian dekulakisation campaign reached their village, they slaughtered everyone who resisted surrendering their lands. Zuleikha’s life spirals down from that moment; she witnesses the murder of her husband and is then exiled to a remote village by the Angara River in Siberia. The severe weather conditions in the village kill most of her companions, and Zuleikha has to muster enough strength to live, befriend the people left in the village, and find new meaning in life.

Historical era: the first quarter of the 20th century.

Length: 8 episodes.

Neophyte

Maria Krapivina, or Masha, is a fresh law graduate from Leningrad University who joins the city’s Investigation Office. Her fellow investigators’ discrimination and derogatory behaviour prompt her to resign upon her initial appointment. However, when a low-life criminal in the investigation room confides in Masha that there’s a traitor in the office, she retreats her resignation and decides to conduct a secret investigation. She has to work against harassment from two of her colleagues, Petrov and Shvedov, as her investigation reveals some of her family’s darkest secrets.

• Historical era: mid-20th century.

• Length: 8 episodes.

Silver Skates

The frigid winter turns the lakes and rivers in St Petersburg into a giant ice arena, where skaters, small shops, and stalls transform the city into a winter wonderland. After Matvey Polyakov loses his job as a delivery guy, he runs into a lowly gang called the Ice Gang and eventually joins them. Matvey crosses paths with Alisa Vyazemskaya, a royal lady; he immediately falls in love with her. However, Matvey must continue his thefts to pay for his father’s operation, so he keeps working with the gang. When local authorities storm the gang’s hideout, Matvey manages to escape, but his father’s death leaves him homeless and purposeless.

Historical era: the end of the 19th century.

Length: 136 minutes.

Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny

The ideal conclusion to our list of Russian period dramas is this legendary award-winning film starring Alan Rickman. We get flashbacks to Rasputin’s biblical visions, which allegedly persuaded him to become a priest. Rasputin’s reputation was far-reaching; however, when he suspiciously cures the crown prince’s haemophilia, the royal family and the people revere him as a saint. As Rasputin continuously fell out of favour with Tsar Nicholas II, political turmoil threatened the country. The Russian nobles decide to kill pretentious Rasputin, who predicts his own death and the death of the entire ruling family.

Historical era: the first quarter of the 20th century.

• Length: 135 minutes.

The assembly of this diverse list of Russian period dramas was the most enjoyable and thrilling adventure for us. We hope you enjoy watching our suggestions as much as we did. For more indulging period dramas and to learn about different countries’ turbulent histories, check out our list of the best Chinese period dramas and Japanese historical TV shows.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *