Silver Skates review – a lavish Russian fairytale

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: June 16, 2021 (Last updated: January 24, 2023)
Silver Skates review - a lavish Russian fairytale


Handsome production and a wintry fairytale quality help to elevate an overlong Russian romance.

Silver Skates has all the elements of a classic fairytale. It’s set in winter, among the frozen rivers and canals of Imperial Saint Petersburg at the turn of the twentieth century. It’s about a doomed romance between a street urchin and an aristocrat’s daughter. There is lavish production design and period detail and a happily-ever-after ending. Michael Lockshin’s film, the first Russian Netflix Original, has all the hallmarks. But it’s also brutally overlong at two hours and ten minutes, trite in many ways and leaden with a political undercurrent that weighs down its light central romance.

You can’t really avoid the politics, to be fair. Matvey (Fedor Fedotov), an ice-skating courier for a famed local confectionary store who loses his deliveryman job and is unable to care for his ailing, humble lamplighter father, Petr (Timofey Tribuntsev), falls for Alisa (Sonia Priss), the daughter of Minister Nikolai Nikolaevich (Aleksey Guskov), dignitary of the tsarist ministers. But Alisa is also, predictably, a budding chemist whose scholarly ambitions have been curtailed by the era’s patriarchal cultural attitudes. Instead, her father wants to marry her off to Captain Prince Arkadiy Trubetskoy (Kirill Zaytsev), an officer of the Okhrana Department who makes it his personal mission to bust the gang of ice-skating pickpockets whom Matvey falls in with.

That gang, led by Alexey Tarasov (Yuriy Borisov), is mostly intended to parrot Marxist ideology and give the proletariat an excuse to slag off the bourgeoisie, which is expected but a bit ham-fisted. The rich-poor divide is compounded by ongoing industrialization and outsourcing, leaving the commoners higher and drier than ever – a more serious topic than what is otherwise a well-worn and simplistic fairytale romance that cribs from everything from Romeo and Juliet to Titanic and Anastasia can necessarily address. Silver Skates often feels like it wants to have its cake and eat it in regard to being both a charming love story and a barbed critique of imperialism; it falls closer to the former since even with such a padded runtime there’s barely any space to become the latter in any meaningful sense.

It looks nice, though, and the orchestration of the zippy action is consistently impressive. The performances, too, many of them from relatively inexperienced actors, add some value. It’s always obvious where Silver Skates is going, but it gets there with enough style and energy that it’s difficult to dislike, even if its icy surface is difficult to grip onto emotionally.

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