Rating: * * *

Verdict: Romance against an epic background.

Director Kravchuk, whose last outing, The Italian, was the Dickensian story of a 6-year-old boy's search for the mother who abandoned him at birth, is in grander mode here, helming what claims to be, at US$20 million ($28 million), the biggest-budget film in Russian cinema history.

Post-soviet in its politics, it is an unabashed rehabilitation of Alexander Vasilievich Kolchak, a World War I naval hero who fought against the Communists after the 1917 revolution. Whether you see him as a doomed patriot crushed by crazed totalitarianism or a reactionary thug standing in the way of the glorious revolution will rather depend on your angle of view. Certainly the film has attracted criticism from non-aligned historians who have questioned Kolchak's military acumen and his relish for capital punishment.

Kravchuk's film takes Kolchak's heroism for granted: what he's made is a love story set against an epic backdrop. The roving eye of the admiral (Khabenskiy) alights on Anna Vasilievna Timireva (Boyarskaya, a dead-ringer for Michelle Pfeiffer and pretty fetching in a fur hat). Their romance is problematic from the start, not just because she's the wife of his best mate and brother-in-arms (Vetrov), but also because destiny keeps calling him away to lead troops with stirring speeches.

Comparisons with Doctor Zhivago are tempting but misleading. Even in its bigger set-pieces this is far more gritty and less lush than the 1960s epic, though there are moments that, perhaps because of bad subtitling, verge on the banal: the scene in which Anna tells her husband she's leaving him is almost comic.

Those big scenes, notably a long opening naval battle, are deeply impressive but as a love story it is drenched in a little too much longing to be truly compelling. But this is an old-fashioned epic in the best sense of those words, a film in which lines like "I love you and I always will. Farewell" are guaranteed to bring a sigh if not a tear.

Cast: Konstantin Khabenskiy, Elizaveta Boyarskaya, Sergey Bezrukov, Vladislav Vetrov, Anna Kovalchuk
Director: Andrei Kravchuk
Running time: 118 mins
Rating: M (contains war footage) In Russian and French with English subtitles