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This extensive biopic of one of Russia’s most famous figures goes about its business in an authoritative, no-nonsense manner. A combination of fascinating, scratchy old footage of Lenin and serious-looking Russian historians (who do know their stuff) gives this 3-disc profile a heavy sense of authenticity.

The series is split into three parts. Lenin: an anatomy of a legend parts one and two, with Who Shot Lenin as the mystery-tackling final chapter. The former sections work quite well to set up Lenin’s life and rise to power, his role in the civil war, and the ingenious methods he used to promote communism. Very much focussed on his political career, part one examines Lenin the revolutionary, an influential and eccentric member of the Russian intelligentsia.

Part two concentrates on Lenin’s private life, his relationship with Inessa Armand especially. This study of the human side of the communist leader is done with the help of contemporary folk songs, cartoons, and letters Lenin wrote to Armand. Footage of his previous places of residence is interspersed with still photos of the boy Lenin as various historians take us through his school life. We learn of Lenin’s parents and the sacrifices they made to bring him and his siblings up; all the factors that combined to create the man who would go on to lead the Russian Revolution.

Who Shot Lenin opens with an ominous introduction to Fanny Kaplan, ‘the woman who shot Lenin’. A roll-call of historians, museum curators, cartoonists, and university lecturers pitch in their two cents as to whether it was in fact Kaplan who carried out the attempted assassination. Eerie music, dark lighting, and shots of magnifying glasses trawling over secret documents add to the feeling that we are all solving a crime together, unlocking the secrets of this assassination attempt for the first time.

‘It is easier to find the assassin than the mastermind in the background,’ postulates one of the Russian historians, convinced that there was some political skulduggery behind the plot. His thoughts are supported by a series of examples of contemporary films being doctored, speeches being altered, and scapegoats being arrested and executed. It has all the elements of a delicious conspiracy theory film, and the extremely rare footage – including the earliest known shots of a young Stalin – makes this part of the series the most enticing.

It is this type of mystery/drama that Discovery Civilization does so well. The film excels at drawing the audience in, revealing the answers piece by piece. The over-seriousness of the first two parts is dropped for this final section, and although the subject matter is grave, the format is accessible and popular in style. Having watched previous releases of this kind from Discovery Civilization, it is clear that the straight biopics or histories do not ring quite as true in this presentation as the ‘unsolved mysteries’ they attempt to debunk, such as the fate of Rudolf Hess.

This is a thought-provoking and thorough film, well-worth watching if you want an introduction to the life of Lenin. In Who Shot Lenin, Discovery Civilization have carved a niche format that I encourage them to stick to when it comes to their history titles, as it is by far the most intriguing and exciting part of the whole film.

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