Amazon Prime’s “Archangel”: A cold, Cold War mystery

Review of BBC’s 2005 adaptation of Robert Harris’s novel “Archangel,” adapted for television in three parts and currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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Daniel Craig plays an Oxford history professor in search of a dark Stalinist secret in "Archangel."

WASHINGTON, September 26, 2017 — It’s a little bit nativity narrative and a little bit second-coming saga. It’s a little bit “Boys from Brazil” and a little bit “Rosemary’s Baby.”

It’s the BBC’s 2005 adaptation of Robert Harris’s novel “Archangel,” developed for television in three parts and currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Oxford history professor Fluke Kelso expresses his contempt for dictator Joseph Stalin.

Oxford History Professor Fluke Kelso (Daniel Craig) is clearly a disappointment to his fellow university faculty members. You see, he hates Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and isn’t afraid to say so while giving a talk before a history conference in Moscow:

“Stalin knew one thing: force.


“During his reign, 20 million people lost their lives. Six million were exiled. 18 million were shipped off to the Gulags.

“Stalin used to spend his evenings at the Bolshoi, or, ironically, watching American Westerns in his own private screening room.

“Later, before he retired to bed, he’d sign death warrants. Sometimes for up to 6 thousand people. And even then – even then – he would write in the margins, ‘Not enough.’

“Make no mistakes, during the years of terror, the witch-finder-general was Stalin himself. He said, ‘To choose one’s victims, to prepare one’s plans minutely, to slake an implacable vengeance and then go to bed, there is nothing sweeter in the world.”

And with that, demonstrators of the Stalinist persuasion barge into the lecture hall, chant and brandish signs bearing short, bumper-sticker slogans so loved by the left, “Russia’s History is Ours!” and “Hands off our Archives!”

He later tells his colleagues, “So, here we are with all our degrees and double-doctorates, swanning around Moscow, confronting the past. And the Russians don’t want to hear about it, you know, because they’re still scared shitless of Stalin.”

An American colleague agrees, “You know, Fluke has a point. Unlike Hitler, he [Stalin] was never exorcised. They never had a Nuremberg [trial] or a Truth Commission like they did in [post-apartheid] South Africa.”

Once Fluke is outside the hall, an old, disheveled man approaches him. “Hey, professor. You think you know all about Comrade Stalin? Let me tell you, you don’t know shit!”

The old man is shoved aside by Fluke’s Russian host, who rushes the English historian into a car and back to his hotel.

But it’s while back at his hotel that Fluke has another encounter with the determined old man, who tells of a time in 1953 when, as a young Red Army sentry, he is called by none other than the dreaded leader of the Soviet secret police, Lavrenty Beria, to accompany him to Stalin’s dacha east of Moscow.

Once there, they encounter the Soviet dictator in his death throes. Beria finds a set of keys on Stalin’s person, which opens a wall safe in the dictator’s Kremlin office. He removes a red leather satchel emblazoned with an embossed hammer and sickle.

Rushing back to his home, Beria has the young soldier dig a hole in his garden while he stuffs the satchel in a tool box before it is buried.

An old man tells an interesting tale to Professor Kelso.

Fluke asks if the old man knows what was in the satchel. The old man says he doesn’t know and leaves the Englishman thinking there is nothing to the story. That is, until he discovers the old man has been brutally tortured and killed.

The contents of that satchel, Fluke later discovers, contains the diary of a young girl who caught the eye of the old dictator, and served the purpose of providing him a male heir.

One that is hidden in a forest cabin awaiting his chance to fill his father’s shoes.

“He is truly his father’s son,” Fluke tells a guardian of the young Stalin.

“With his father’s greatness,” adds the guard, “And his time is coming.”

As Fluke tells the American journalist accompanying him, “He’s Stalin’s son. That man’s father is responsible for more deaths than Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot and Genghis Khan combined. And that is a conservative estimate.”

He adds more chillingly,

“30 million Russians think that man’s dad did a good job.”

Growing up listening to recordings of his father’s speeches and well-versed in ways of Marxist theory, Stalin the Younger slicks back his thick, black mane, trims his mustache, opens an old trunk and dawns his father’s uniform.

For a confused and fallen world that can’t get its fill of dictators, the old Russian mass murderer has provided a chip off the old block.

“Archangel” is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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