John Lichfield: There's no escaping big-screen royalty

Notebook

Share
Related Topics

Like much of the rest of the world, I usually spend my holidays in France.

Sometimes, it is good to get away. My son, Charles, is studying at Moscow State University this year. Russia seemed to be a perfect place to hide from the royal wedding. I was also relieved to set aside, for a few days, the great, unanswerable questions of French life. When do you say "tu" or "vous"? Why is Johnny Hallyday still so popular after half a century? Why is Gérard Depardieu in almost every French movie? How many different French cheeses are there, really? And is Carla Bruni-Sarkozy pregnant?

Russia proved to be a good choice for escaping from Wills-and-Kate-mania. I turned for news of the event to Russia Today, a 24-hour, English-language TV channel, which broadcasts in Soviet style with the help of a sprinkling of British journalistic Burgesses and Macleans.

Its main report on The Wedding was a long interview with a young British dissident. Her boyfriend, she said, had been arrested in London for demonstrating against royalty and taken to an "undisclosed location". This was perhaps a reference to the British gulag, somewhere in the frozen tundra north of Bolton, which cannot usually be mentioned in the official UK media.

Walking that night through the surprisingly quiet streets of St Petersburg, we – that is, my son, wife and I – stared idly through the ground-floor windows of a hotel which was even posher than our own. Sitting comfortably in the bar, with two beautiful raven-haired women, was Gérard Depardieu. This just goes to show. It is possible to escape the most-talked-about wedding in history but not to escape Gérard.

What on earth, you will ask, was Mr Depardieu doing in St Petersburg? He was making a movie, of course. At the age of 62, France's best-known and most active actor is slowing down a little. He appeared in 11 movies in 2008, four in 2009 and five in 2010. He is scheduled to appear in another four this year but that does not include the Franco-Russian TV movie that he is making, on and off, in St Petersburg.

Mr Depardieu is taking the title role in a film about Grigori Rasputin, the mystic and allegedly oversexed monk who held the last Russian imperial family in his thrall. The movie will be shown in time for this year's 95th anniversary of Rasputin's prolonged murder, which happened in St Petersburg in December 1916.

The excellent French theatre and cinema actress Fanny Ardant will play the Tsarina Alexandra, who was, according to some accounts, one of Rasputin's many conquests.

A question arises, however. Rasputin was reputedly a tall and wiry man, with something of the look and build of Osama bin Laden. Mr Depardieu is tall but not wiry. Is he on a crash, monk-like diet? By my observation, no.

Time travel in comfort on closely observed trains

This was my first visit to Russia. It seemed like one of those parallel universes that exist in American comic books. It resembled our world, but not quite, as if it had taken a different evolutionary turning (which, of course, it did, several times). It was neither First World nor Third World; not quite Europe, certainly not Asia, definitely not the United States; no longer totalitarian, not quite free.

Some things are just as you expect. People do not smile much. The food is generally awful, except for the Georgian restaurants. Some things are not what you expect. Why was I not aware of the beauty of the Kremlin and its gardens?

As an unreconstructed trainspotter, I was much taken by the Russian railways and the extraordinary efficiency of the Moscow Metro. They also exist on a parallel planet, built to a 5ft gauge, instead of the 4ft 81/2in stubbornly used by most railways in the world. We travelled from Moscow to St Petersburg on a new, German-built high-speed train. The line – silver birches, ponds and wooden villages for 400 miles – is the same 19th-century route patronised by Tolstoy and his great heroine, Anna Karenina. It has been upgraded in places to allow the German train to run through the birch forests at 125mph to 150mph.

On the way back, we took an overnight sleeper. I had the most comfortable overnight train journey of my life. Two unsmiling young women in ill-fitting, tight uniforms ran our carriage. They strutted up and down the corridor as if on military parade. On arrival in Moscow, they – and other young women in ill-fitting tight uniforms – stood, unsmiling, in formationbeside each carriage.

The Moscow Metro is famous for its marble and chandeliers. Some of the stations are truly spectacular, like miniature, underground ballrooms. It is said that there is a 12th, secret line, between the Kremlin and the Defence Ministry. Does that also have marble and chandeliers?

But what impressed most, even after the Paris Metro, was the frequency and reliability of the underground trains. My wife and I waited for my son for 25 minutes at one station on a bank holiday Sunday morning. A train arrived at each platform face every two minutes.

Our only companions for much of that time were the eight – yes eight – policemen guarding the platform. Truly, a different planet.

Hatching a premier plan for a dynsaty of bling?

And is Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, 44, really pregnant this time? All the Kremlinological signs from within and without the Elysée Palace suggest that she probably is. The most recent rumour says that she is having twins.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, a great collector of trophy wives and Rolex watches, already has three sons from two previous marriages. Maybe he intends to found a Bling Dynasty.



j.lichfield@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower