12/08/1986 at 01:00 AM EST
NBC (Sun., Mon., Dec. 7-8, 9 p.m. ET)
After watching Peter the Great last season, I developed a taste for Russian history; it is as rich, dank and dark as a fresh truffle. So at the start of Anastasia I had a good feeling. Czar Omar Sharif and the Romanovs reign regally over Russia—and the show—until the new crowd in the Kremlin imprisons and executes them all. Or maybe not all. Maybe one of them, Anastasia, survived. Cut to Berlin, where Amy Irving tries to jump off a bridge and kill herself. If only I knew then what I know now (after watching four hours of this thing), I would have wished her success. Anastasia starts as a lovely production thanks to sleek direction from Marvin (Peter the Great) Chomsky, slick writing from James A. (The Lion in Winter) Goldman and classy acting from Sharif, Olivia de Havilland as the Dowager Empress, Rex Harrison as Grand Duke Cyril and even Susan (All My Children) Lucci as an expatriate princess. But the show can succeed only on Irving's performance as Anastasia. And the show fails. The world has seen dozens of better Anastasia impersonators (starting with Ingrid Bergman in her 1956 Oscar-winner). Irving seems to think that she can hone the entire art of acting down to one irritatingly overdone mannerism: She flutters her eyelids when she cries. She flutters well and flutters often, whenever she can get a close-up. The rest of the time, she settles for whining, moaning, screaming and yelling. When she simply speaks, she does so in a badly haughty English accent (which makes a lot of sense coming from a Russian in Germany). She can't even play camp scenes for a laugh: sitting in a padded room, modeling a straitjacket as she declares, "I am her Imperial Highness' the Grand Duchess Anastasia." What Lucci could have done with that line! De Havilland and the rest of the Romanov family refuse to recognize this Anastasia, and I can't blame them. They're better off being remembered for their noodles.