This big budget next step for Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner marks his first piece of television since the allegations of sexual harassment made against him by fellow Mad Men writer Kater Gordon in 2017. This visually polished and glamourous anthology series tracks the lives of several fictional descendants of the Romanov dynasty and the effects of their history on the way they live now. While there are many individual moments, especially within the first couple of episodes, that display a profound meditative beauty, the conversation around themes that are clearly meant to be progressive often seems stunted.
Take, for example, Inès Melab’s character Hajar in The Romanoffs’ first instalment: despite the positive portrayal of a major character being a Muslim woman, single-handedly upholding the morals of the decaying racist royalty around her, her story smacks a little of a simplistic juxtaposition between past and present, good and bad. Then again, each character is similarly two-dimensional, so it may be unfair to pick on her in particular.
There are some positives. Aaron Eckhart is ruthless in his performance of Greg (Grisha) Moffat, the last heir to his aunt’s fabulous apartment in Paris, and his girlfriend Sophie, played by Louise Bourgoin, plays the whore to Hajar’s Madonna with a refreshing zeal that recalls the honesty of Villanelle’s character in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Killing Eve. The most profound moments in the first episode are between ageing aunt Anushka, played by Marthe Keller, and Hajar, her carer, reminding us of the enduring legacy of women’s storytelling, and the central place of empathy and listening in any kind of real, human inheritance.
The Romanoffs is not as strong a continuation for Weiner after his success in Mad Men as he probably would have hoped, even if only as a study in familial love. But, any viewer who does choose to enter into Weiner’s new creation will need to do so with their eyes firmly open.
The first two episodes of The Romanoffs are now available to watch on Amazon Prime.