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Ewan McGregor Shines in Tepid Adaptation

Ewan McGregor Shines in Tepid Adaptation

Amor Towles is an apt and confident storyteller, having penned The Lincoln Highway, Table for Two, and A Gentleman In Moscow. The latter became a monstrous bestseller, attracting 2 million readers and a long stay atop the New York Times bestseller list. The book opens in 1922 and begins a delightful and often humorous journey with Count Alexander Rostov, who is stripped of his “status” and sent to house arrest at the Metropol, a divine hotel just a stone’s throw from the Kremlin. Sent to live in an attic room, Rostov must adjust, and the book weaves through the years and his experiences inside the elaborate hotel. It sure has the makings of a grand adventure.

Unfortunately, Showtime’s new limited series, based on Towles’ book and headlined by Ewan McGregor (Fargo, Halston, Obi-Wan Kenobi), checks us in but never makes us feel all that settled. The book did a fabulous job at showcasing Rostov adjusting to his new, less frilly and dignified life, allowing him opportunities to explore the emotional depths of life itself, and his purpose within it. That happens in this limited series. However, as wonderfully as it was produced and acted, something feels missing.

That’s not to say executive producer and showrunner Ben Vanstone’s (The Last Kingdom, All Creatures Great and Small) outing is a total misfire. It isn’t. It’s lavish and, at times, gloriously witty and fun—thanks to Ewan McGregor’s elan, of course. There’s enough charm to appreciate here and while the series never dives deep enough into the “revelations” and life lessons Rostov encounters, it’s enjoyable nonetheless—a curiously “lite” deep spectacle.

Ewan McGregor Drives the Story

A Gentleman in Moscow


Release Date
March 29, 2024


Entertainment One, Moonriver, Paramount

Streaming Service(s)


  • The limited series has a certain charm that keeps it enjoyable throughout.
  • Ewan McGregor delivers another great performance, which is enough reason to watch the series.

  • Something feels missing in this book adaptation as we never fully settle into the story.
  • Much of the show is too surface-level, and we never truly understand McGregor’s character.

There’s been a tendency in the 2020s to produce streaming series headlined by A-list stars capable of holding our interest across eight episodes, no matter how the story plays out. Kate Winslet’s The Regime managed to pull it off, but even there, there’s a bit of emptiness amidst all the fuss. Ewan McGregor is captivating throughout A Gentleman in Moscow and the main reason to tune in.

Our tale begins in 1921 during The Russian Revolution. The Count sits before a tribunal and awaits his fate. He is among many dignitaries stripped of their status at the time. Some were killed, and Rostov may have been, too, were it not for a twist of fate. The man’s name was on a poem that inspired several revolutionaries. Ah, the power of art and creativity. Rostov can live. But not in the lavish hotel suite at the Metropol. Placed under house arrest, he must live in the hotel—forever, apparently—which, if you think about it, may not be such a horrible thing during a revolution. The service and meals remain good, and that’s a great thing.


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Now, the fun of the series begins. We experience Rostov adjusting to his new life. He finds a friendly companion in a seemingly parentless child named Nina (Alexa Goodall), which gives the first few episodes some pep and intrigue. Meanwhile, in between the occasional chilling visits from the Russian official who sentenced him, Osip Glebnikov (Johnny Harris), Rostov delights (mostly) in getting to know the staff, primarily Bishop (John Heffernan), who seeks advancement amidst the country’s grave unrest.

There’s also the whimsy of a potential romance with a spunky actress named Anna Urbanova (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, McGregor’s spouse in real life). The two offer a nice spark to the limited series early on, and as the episodes play out, viewers are whisked through the years of Rostov’s life in the hotel while Russia adjusts to the rise of Joseph Stalin.

Living in Moscow ‘Lite’

As we breezily move through the episodes, the series deposits meaningful “messages” at critical turning points in Rostov’s journey: how one life can dramatically affect another, that it’s best to savor the moment, that we can make the best of our own fates. It’s all good. Not very deep, though, because it skims the surface far too often. Even when Rostov deeply questions his own existence and whether it’s worth going on, there’s never a deep dive further into what made Rostov the man he was before the madness emerged.



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This, no doubt, is intentional, as everything in A Gentleman in Moscow—from its various characters to bizarre episodic events—is not meant to embed itself deeper into the limited series as a whole. People and events move swiftly in and out of Rostov’s life, and we’re along for the ride. We don’t know, for instance, all we could know about Rostov’s comrade Mishka (Fehinti Balogun of The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself), a Bolshevik surviving the changing times. When Nina emerges years later, her life has changed, but there’s a disconnect between the emotional ramifications of just how life has really changed her. Her character tells Rostov, but something doesn’t register. It’s all designed to prompt some kind of reaction or revelation from Rostov, all in an effort to continue driving the tale forward.

Diehard fans of historical dramas—those who desire everything to appear as authentic as it can—will have to overlook some of the limited series’ creative choices. Proper English dialects come in place of Russian accents or subtitles. The casting may seem purposely “woke.” Did Bolsheviks have dreadlocks? These factor into the overall takeaway from the outing, which reminds us, time and again, that life is a mysterious, often fast-moving swirl of circumstances filled with colorful characters.

Don’t overthink it all that much here. Instead, savor the good. This cast is downright dynamic. And there’s Ewan McGregor in a dynamite performance set in a lavishly produced spectacle that aims to charm you more than provoke thought. That’s a good thing. Yet, it is an odd thing for a period piece, especially one set in early 20th century Russia, to be released in an era filled with so much political and social divide. A Gentleman in Moscow streams on Showtime and Paramount+. Watch the trailer below.

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