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Palmer's epic biopic of the Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich (Kingsley), adapted from memoirs he 'related' shortly before his death in 1975, concentrates primarily on the period (early '30s to '50s) of his deeply ambivalent relationship with Stalin (Rigby). Long, daringly shot in 'Scope and glorious black-and-white, it's a fascinating, ambitious work, but finally overwrought and unrevealing. Despite some stunning individual scenes, featuring expressionist imagery, montage techniques, and historical reconstructions, (and inventive use of our dour Victorian industrial landscape to suggest the Leningrad and Moscow locations), the cumulative effect is bewildering and lacking in intellectual rigour; the array of 'hello Meyerhold, goodbye Khachaturyan' cameos distract (Pickup's betrayed Marshal Tukhachevsky excepted), and Kingsley, scribbling away, is left as little more than a pile of soulless period clothing. The music (the Violin Concerto No 1, the late symphonies, the Michelangelo sonnet) is magnificent.

By: WH

Release details

Duration: 157 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Tony Palmer
Screenwriter: David Rudkin, Tony Palmer
Cast: Ben Kingsley
Terence Rigby
Ronald Pickup
Sherry Baines
Magdalen Asquith
John Shrapnel
Robert Stephens