Danielle Steel’s Zoya (1995)

Twenty-two films have been made from the novels of Danielle Steel.  TWENTY-TWO!  More than Judith Krantz, more than Jackie Collins, maybe even more than Stephen King.  Just off the top of my mind, I think the book-to-movie transfer rate is higher than anyone but God, though to be fair, He’s been filmed since the first days of cinema and Danielle Steel has only been writing since the 1970s.  That makes her record pretty damn astonishing.

Of course, Steel’s career has been a triumph of trash, selling hundreds of millions of books on the well-worn formulas of the romance novel, often set against backgrounds of historical pageantry.  I admit, I’ve read a few Danielle Steel books.  They don’t take that long, don’t challenge the brain and are great for airplanes and the like.

The miniseries of Danielle Steel are the Velveeta of the genre: phony, processed, gooey, but somehow, oh-so-tasty!  Let’s jump right into a vat now.  I promise, it’s not nearly as annoying as Judith Krantz, and a whole lot funnier!

“Zoya” is everything a romance miniseries should be, quite honestly.  Yes, it’s a bit low-rent, a bit over-zealous and not always ideally cast, but it was made in 1995.  This is a last gasp miniseries, when the budgets were smaller and the interest from viewers far less intense.  I shudder to think of what “Zoya” would have been like 10 years earlier!

Our story destined to be told in flashback starts in 1931 with a spectacular opening, a gigantic fire as an apartment building goes up in flames.  Melissa Gilbert rushes inside the burning building to find her children (the entire fire department can’t stop her, not that more than one or two try).  She is able to save her son, but her daughter and “little dog” are still in the building when she begins to reminisce about all the tragedy she’s had in life.  Of course she does.  Waiting by a burning building is exactly the time and place to rehash the past.

Melissa is a Russian Countess (Zoya), a niece of the last Tsar.  “I was spoiled and protected and totally unprepared for the world outside, the real world,” she tells us, far more than some of the descendants of Russian nobility today.  Right off the bat, ballerina Melissa and one of the Grand Duchesses are in trouble with the Tsarina (Jennifer Hilary, sporting an accent that I can’t place–she was, after all, a German Princess raised partially in England and Tsarina of the Russian people, but somehow it comes out a little Swedish), who scolds her for being late and then praises her by giving her a puppy.  Oh, and FYI, it’s 1917, and you know what that means.

Melissa is awfully progressive for her era and her rank.  When her brother, dashing soldier Sam West, comments that he will look for a husband for her, she replies that she will find her own, “but not before I try the stage.”  Sam obviously doesn’t like that idea, but since his mistress is on the stage, he can’t say much about it, except that noble women do not do such things.  “There are no Countesses like myself and I shall marry for love or not at all,” Melissa chirps.  We’ve found our strong heroine.  You can check that box off in the list of miniseries musts.

Neither of Melissa’s parents likes the puppy and Melissa argues to keep it until her frustrated grandmother, Diana Rigg (check off the box for slumming legend too), settles it all by volunteering to keep the puppy herself.  Suddenly, though, the puppy isn’t such a big deal when brother Sam is brought into the house wounded and promptly dies.  The family needs to scoot from St. Petersburg immediately.  Diana gives Melissa the family’s precious Faberge egg to watch over just as revolutionary soldiers march into the mansion.  Family members are killed mercilessly one-by-one, but Diana and Melissa manage to escape.  They race in a carriage through the attacks and counter-attacks rife in the St. Petersburg streets while the score pounds behind them relentlessly.

Wondering about the dog?  I know you are.  Yes, the puppy is safe with Melissa and Diana.

Diana finds out from a two-second conversation that the Tsar has abdicated and is supposedly off to exile in England, but she decides they will go to Paris.  Noting Melissa has a fever (the Grand Duchesses all had the measles), Diana launches into a speech about remembering the past that is only interrupted by a soldier stopping their little carriage.  The cuteness of the puppy gets them out of that scrape.

With their driver in tow, they reach Paris awfully quickly and apparently without incident, although Melissa has full-fledged measles now.  At the train station, they meet Prince David Warner (check off the box for miniseries fixture), who works in Paris as a cab driver since “royal titles don’t mean much here.”  Diana goes to pawn her jewels, finding them worth far less than expected because the French jewel market has been flooded with Russian gems.

It’s up to Melissa to help bring in cash, so she decides to go look for work in the ballet, the Ballet Russes no less.  She has no resume, but she has pluck.  “I’m a dancer, a good dancer.  It’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” she tells the haughty ballerina she meets in the theater.  Diaghilev (Gregory Hlady) happens to be there and tells her to audition because most of his company has the measles.  Since she has just overcome them (in about 43 seconds), that’s a bonus already.  She gets the job (thanks, in part, to a ballerina stand-in that is very obvious from afar, far less, um, robust, than Melissa), and then has to break the news to Granny, who refuses to let her “prostitute herself.”  She has an alternate suggestion: marry David Warner, who does have a crush on her.  Nothing will stop Melissa from pursuing this dream.  Diana and David both attend Melissa’s opening and it’s a triumph.

World War I is mentioned for the first time when Melissa asks David if Paris will fall to the Germans as a way to head off the conversation she knows he wants to have.  “I will always be here for you,” he tells her when she succeeds at keeping him at bay.

A small ticker tape parade (this goes back to the budget issue–there are maybe 50 extras and no doubt they all had to rip the bunting themselves before tossing it in the air) welcomes the American soldiers to Paris.  Everyone is so excited because they will save France.

The Ballet Russes company is invited to General Pershing’s residence.  Now she will finally get to meet soldier Bruce Boxleitner, to whom she threw a carnation in the parade and who has seen her dance.  His French is terrible, but her English is sterling, so phew, they have a language in common!  Their brief waltz and uncomfortable small talk are interrupted when Bruce is needed by the General and the company has to get back to Paris.  Diana is furious the next morning because Melissa “danced in the arms of a man to whom you have not been properly introduced.”

Diana is clinging to the old way of life, which is as dead as her relatives.  In a walk in the park with David, she falters and tells him, “I am not well,” as if we needed verification.  We all know that a stumble or a cough means imminent death on TV!  “But, before I go, I must be sure that Zoya is not left alone among strangers,” she tells David anointing him Melissa’s husband-to-be.  Bad timing, because Bruce has stalked Melissa to give her flowers and invite her to dinner, which she tells him Granny won’t like.  “It’s not late dinners that my grandmother does not approve of, it’s handsome American soldiers,” she coyly says.  “I bet I can win her over,” Bruce says with cocky American style, but Melissa knows better than to even try that, so she agrees to dinner and what seems like a two-day walk around Paris so we can all see the sights (literally, it’s day when they meet, night when they dine and walk and day again when they part).  Bruce and Melissa have their giant romantic first kiss (with the orchestra going nuts) as Diana watches from the window, all but dying of horror.

“I cannot allow you to throw away your life on a man who is not one of us,” Diana tells Melissa, hoping that when they return to Russia…uh oh, cue the knock on the door and the news that the Tsar and his family have been killed…scratch that return to Russia, I guess.  What’s Plan B, Granny?  There isn’t one, because Diana is very sick.  The driver dies of whatever she has, and Diana doubles her efforts to marry Melissa to David.  “Grandmama, the world has changed,” Melissa says.  “The sun and moon are still above us,” Diana notes, though I’m not sure what it means.  Even better, Diana says, “you know so little of the world.  You cannot trust a soldier.”  Wait a minute.  Diana has been living the life of a Russian aristocrat all of her life, so how does she know that?  Melissa is the one who has been out in Paris among regular people, so if anyone should be dispensing advice…

Diana decrees Melissa must marry David, so Melissa runs through Paris, in a convenient rainstorm that will make this moment so much cheesier, to the American garrison to find Bruce.  “I’m leaving, being sent to the front…I don’t want you to wait for me,” Bruce says, but Melissa begs entreats him to proclaim his love for her, which he won’t do.  “I don’t expect to come back.  Please don’t wait for me!” he says and turns away.  The course of true love is never easy in these types of stories.  With hours yet to go, did you think it would be as simple as meet-fall in love-defy Granny-marry?  Come on, you know better than that!

Melissa sums it up for us: no letters from Bruce, a war continuing, driver dead, Granny sick, days and nights miserable, and he’s henpecked about marrying David.  Basically, it can’t get much worse for our heroine.  “I can’t remember being so unhappy in all of my life,” she narrates.

One of those items on the list of tragedies remedies itself when Paris is liberated and awash in celebration.  Melissa is innocently walking through the crowds when Bruce grabs her.  He says he was working for intelligence (and he didn’t stop to help this script?) and therefore couldn’t contact her and was then sent to the front where communication was cut.  Five minutes after telling her he couldn’t ever see her again, he says he loves her and they get that very big kiss.  Trying to bribe Diana, he brings gobs of food and presents to Melissa’s little apartment, though of course Diana disapproves.  Bruce even asks her permission to take Melissa to lunch and as she’s about to say no, David says let them go.  “You’ve just made a very serious mistake,” she tells David, who replies “maybe so.”

How’s this for the whims of love?  Bruce tells Melissa he was married before, though he is now a widower.  “And yes, I loved her,” he says, seeing the wheels turn in her head, “and now I love you.”  Melissa, hun, keep that in the back of your mind.  Should you ever die, he’ll still love you, but he’ll move on too.

Bruce has to stop and change his clothes, and like all good mischievous Russian noblewomen, Melissa has to go snooping around the gigantic mansion that houses the soldiers.  She catches Bruce just putting on his shirt.  He’s not upset.  “Now you’ll know where to picture me when I’m…uh…not with you,” he says, in way that is supposed to sound romantic.  This leads to a very uncomfortable conversation (for them and us) where Bruce says he needs to fight the sexual urges he has for her, though she tries to encourage them, and furthermore, he’s hungry.  “Take me,” she says, cuing the removal of clothes and the violins.  For a sex scene, it’s very…network.  No one shows any skin or even reaches second base, for that matter.

Knowing that Bruce is coming to pick Melissa up, Diana sends her to buy tea so she can talk to Bruce alone.  She informs him that she is a countess (which Melissa never bothered to tell him), and asks if he’s prepared to go back to Russia with her for her “many duties” as a countess.  Diana still doesn’t get that the old Russia is gone and Bruce doesn’t seem to notice either, saying “we haven’t talked about all of the details.”  Diana demands that Bruce break it off.  He pussyfoots around it, using their age difference, their difference in backgrounds and all but hair color to halt wedding plans.  We do feel for Bruce because Melissa blames him, which is what Diana had intended (and Bruce knew that, but went ahead with it anyway, which makes him one damn stupid man).

Melissa, told by Diaghilev that her “spirit has flown,” can no longer dance and takes a job making hats.  Diana is dying and commands Melissa to “bring me the egg,” entrusting it to her.  It’s supposed to be a remembrance of everything, but that won’t buy food!  Diana admits that she sent Bruce away, but Melissa says, “you saved my life,” at least remembering her priorities.  And with that, Diana succumbs to that terrible unnamed illness that has been dogging her for  the last few scenes.  Other than the dog, David is all she has, by default.  He knows she won’t marry him, but he wants to cheer her up.

By this point in time, peace talks are going on at Versailles and General Pershing is a part of them, which means Bruce is back.  They are reunited and moments later have been married.  With the dog in tow, they depart for America, where Melissa declares, “I don’t want anyone to know I’m a countess, just an American wife.”  Bruce sends her off to Axelle (Denise Alexander) to buy a whole new wardrobe, but the American gossips are already upset that she’s so young, that she was a bawdy dancer, etc.  Mid-pout, Melissa tells Bruce she’s preggers, and a scene change later, they have a little boy.  Another scene change later they also have a little girl.  And the dog, of course.  Naturally, at the pinnacle of happiness, Melissa chooses to remember what her grouchy grandmother always used to say, “tragedy teaches us many lessons.”

Their problems don’t seem so bad.  The little girl is a brat and the dog is going deaf, but that’s nothing extraordinary.  Something is bothering Bruce, but he won’t say what.  When he mentions that he often forgets to appreciate his wife, we know for sure he certainly won’t live to a ripe old age, but already?  It can’t be!

It is.  Second billing, and Bruce has barely been on screen for 30 minutes or so.  The lawyer has more bad news: she’s broke, since Bruce tossed all their coin in the plunging stock market.  The cliches keep a-comin’ as they all bid farewell to Bruce at a rainy funeral.  “For the first time, there was no one on whom I could depend,” Melissa narrates to end the first portion of the miniseries.

Destitute in 1930, Melissa, the kids, that very old dog and a few sticks of furniture are leaving the old house.  “We have to say hello to whatever is next,” Melissa reports with chipper enthusiasm to her sulky children.  Their new landlady in a tenement is Peggy Cass, sounding like the same strangled bird she did back in her “Auntie Mame” days 40 years earlier.  It should be noted their new digs look a lot like the dive where Melissa lives with Grandmother Diana Rigg.  And she still has the egg.  Can’t sell the egg.

For work, she tries to fall back on her dancing, but this isn’t St. Petersburg and it isn’t Paris.  It’s New York City and she goes to stand in line at an open call for Ziegfeld (although at a theater bearing his name, which is historically inaccurate–the Follies were held at the New Amsterdam).  She’s not tall enough, so she’s sent to other theaters where they hire smaller actresses.  This dive turns out to be a burlesque house, where somehow Melissa auditions with her ballet moves and gets the job (also historically inaccurate, because burlesque loved tall girls too).  She’s hired on the spot to start that night and has to leave her kids alone, with the dog, of course.

“Luckily the patrons, as they call them, were so drunk, they didn’t notice I was crying,” Melissa says of her first night, where we see her doing a Salome-type dance that isn’t at all sexy.  Pert as ever, she tells herself the job is perfect because the hours are convenient to take her kids to school.  Spoken like a true ex-royal who has lost everything in the world.

And now we return to the fire that started the movie.  She’s been sent home early from the theater because business is so slow in the summer.  Her son and daughter survive (at the beginning, we knew only about the daughter), but it’s time to say goodbye to the dog.  He’s been around since the very first scene.  “Slava saved our lives, Mama,” her son says with little emotion.  Melissa ignores that to narrate that “every family I had ever loved had been torn from me.  I promised that day I would never let that happen again!”  Yes, Scarlett, we expected you to say that at some point.  The strong female in a miniseries always has to declare that when she hits bottom, and Zoya girl, you’ve hit bottom!

Everything that’s happened so far, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, is pretty normal and expected.  Escaping the Russian Revolution has formed the basis of lots of stories.  Marrying a handsome soldier against the family wishes, having him die early, poverty, well, it’s the lifeblood of this genre.  But, the rebuilding is where it gets kooky, because now the authors get to make the rest up, and unfortunately “the rest” always involves a younger generation that is nowhere near as exciting as the previous one (“Kane & Abel” a few weeks ago is ideal proof of that, but certainly “Mistral’s Daughter” is the Holy Grail of somnambulist generational boredom).

Melissa goes to apply for a job at Axelle’s (remember, that’s Denise Alexander, more famous as Lesley Webber on “General Hospital”), where she once was able to shop with unlimited credit.  Axelle tries to brush her off, but then Melissa invents personal shopping right there on the spot.  Axelle thinks it’s a good idea because of the clientele she has, but only if Melissa put her Countess title in front of her name.  “It would be a real feather in their caps to be waited on by a countess,” Axelle says, though Melissa has sworn over and over she never wanted to use the title again.  “Without your title, you’re just a salesgirl,” Axelle snaps and Melissa doesn’t have a choice.

It becomes 1938 and Melissa has worked her way up to second-in-command at Axelle, her kids now older, but still spoiled (Cameron Bancroft and Jennifer Garner–yes, that Jennifer Garner).  Jennifer is actually downright obnoxious.  Nothing Melissa does is good enough for her, and Melissa has no idea why.  She buys a gorgeous brownstone for the family, but Jennifer finds every reason to complain.

For the first time in 20 years or so, Melissa returns to Paris, on a buying trip with Axelle.  It’s here that Melissa meets Philip Casnoff, also there to see the fashions.  Gorgeous Philip is much more of a hunk than Bruce ever was, so there must be something wrong with him, no?  Axelle can see there is a connection immediately, especially since he’s of Russian ancestry, and allows them time alone.

Back in the US, Cameron has to rescue his sister from a crappy bar where she’s had too much to drink and makes a fool of herself.  This of course leads to an argument about Mama.  “Is she away?  I hadn’t noticed,” Jennifer growls to her brother, who says Mama loves her.  “Funny, I had noticed that either,” she dryly reports, pouring herself a drink.

Philip tries to take Melissa to dinner on her last night in Paris, and she tries to slither out of it, but Philip is clearly in love.  He even gazes at her longingly as she talks about her children for the umpteenth time, which has to be as boring for him as it is for the viewer.  During an outdoor dance at one of Paris’ most romantic spots, the two dance and Philip kisses her.  “Don’t do that again,” Melissa says.  “I won’t,” replies Philip, who goes for a deeper kiss.  Yes!  That’s the juice!  That’s the marshmallow confection romance miniseries are built on!  The dialogue makes not a lick of sense, but the two lovers unite and that’s what matters.

With Philip in tow, Melissa returns to NYC and meets Cameron, who is very pleasant to him.  Jennifer, however, has been “kicked out of public school,” so their reunion is less happy.  Jennifer spits out a tirade that literally has her foaming at the mouth and I admit to sharing the puzzled look on Melissa’s face to hear it.  What the hell is this girl so upset about?

Philip scoots her off on a vacation to New England, where he’s bought out the entire inn so they can be alone.  Ah, the rich, taking vacations from their vacations.  This leads to a bedroom scene with dim lighting, where Philip tells Melissa, “I don’t want to just love you.  I want to love you and be loved by you forever.”  Awwwww.  “I’m afraid there is no such thing as forever,” Melissa replies, but Philip hits the ground and proposes.  He’s willing to put up with her kids, he says, anything to be with her, so she says yes.  The violins are back, though there is no actual sex scene shown.

As expected, Cameron is thrilled, but Jennifer is a bitch about it.  “If you two want to walk down the straight and narrow, that’s fine and dandy with me, but I don’t need a father.  I’ve already had one and he’s dead,” she rages, bolting out dramatically.  Cameron follows after her, and finally Jennifer reveals a little of what has been bothering her: absentee parenting.  She’s been angry at having no parent around.

Let’s parse this for a moment, shall we?  She had two parents, like we all do.  One died when she was but a babe.  That’s terribly sad, but it can’t be changed.  Since her remaining parent was not wealthy, someone has to support the family, which meant Mom went off to work.  That may not all make sense to a child, but to a young woman, it should be fairy obvious.  To Melissa’s credit, she’s given her kids a great life, spoiling them to the point that Jennifer’s anger makes no sense, other than, I assume, it’s leading to some bad behavior that will keep the plot churning.  Parsing over.

Philip and Melissa are married in a lovely outdoor ceremony where Jennifer even cracks a smile congratulating her mother.  When Christmas comes, Philip makes sure to charm the kids, buying Cameron a car and Jennifer a fur coat.  That’s nothing compared to the present for Melissa: her own store.  It’s the size of a hotel!  It will be open in about six months, in time for the holidays.  “In time for the baby,” she notes.  He’s stunned, and so am I.  She’s how old?  Predictably, Jennifer is pissed.  “Once again, my mother will have a damn good reason not to pay attention to me,” is her reaction.  So much for happy tidings.

Since Melissa can’t think of a name for the store, Axelle and Philip come up with “Countess Zoya.”  It took two people to come up with that name?  Two supposedly smarty people?  As the sign is unveiled, Melissa goes into labor and has a boy.  The baby has good timing; he’s born right as Hitler invades Poland.  That would be September 1 and the store also opens that month, with Melissa in a non-pregnant form immediately.  Back to work so soon?  Jennifer’s anger is suddenly a bit understandable.  Two years pass in a snap so that the US is now in the war.

You don’t need me to tell you that Cameron, a senior in college, enlists.  “Whether I come back with one leg or two, or in a pine box, I’ll still be your brother,” he tells Jennifer, who loves only him in the entire world.  For Melissa, it’s doubly bad, because Philip goes into the service too.  He swears they will be back.  “Have I ever broken a promise?” Philip asks her.  The odds of two men going off to war in a miniseries and both coming back are pretty damn slim.

Jennifer spends the war in the arms of anyone who will have her, while Melissa raises money and does everything her increasingly perky character should do.  She even tries to mend fences with Jennifer, but the latter won’t allow it.  There is a moment where Jennifer seems like she’s about to relent a little, but the war department arrives with a letter.  Philip.  When Jennifer even attempts to express sympathy, Melissa walks away.  Good for her!  Jennifer can’t even be kind during the funeral.

What seems to finally crack Jennifer a bit is when she’s offered a job in Melissa’s store.  She takes to it well, but she’s not employee of the month.  If she goes out, she comes in late.  Good guy Cameron has a fiancee no one knew about (Susan Haskell) because she’s from a fancy New England family.  See, we’ve spent so much time on nasty Jennifer that no one noticed Cameron may have a plot of his own!

Melissa isn’t wild about Susan, who wonders aloud at dinner why so much money and expense are spent on tanks and not “the women back at home.”  Okay, she’s not so smart.  But worse is Julian Stone, Jennifer’s boyfriend, who is so obnoxious that Melissa wastes no time in offering to pay him off to get him to go away.  Oh, that’s going to sit well with Jennifer!  Sadly, folks, we’re deprived of a big confrontation scene by glamorous tycoon Melissa (yeah, I know, none of those words fit together) and her daughter because just as Melissa is exposing Julian, Jennifer flounces in to announce they were married the day before and she’s pregnant.

“Stop,” you say.  In all of these marriages and deaths and new children, you want to know where the Faberge egg is.  I’ll tell you.  Melissa gives it to Cameron when he buys his wife a new house.  Just putting it out there, because it’s the kind of detail, we should not forget.

Jennifer has a baby, but Melissa only finds out because she happens to be in Cameron’s office when he gets the news.  “The next few years floated by,” Melissa narrates as her young son goes off to boarding school.  All is well with Cameron, but Melissa has no contact with Jennifer.  “For the first time in my life, I was completely and utterly alone,” she says.  Cue the knock at the door for Jennifer and her daughter to come home (Melissa has certainly earned some private time, but selfish Jennifer has to usurp it).  Jennifer has left Julian, who was not only a con artist, but a wife beater.  There’s a bit of temper at the onset, but Jennifer says, “I know it’s too late, but I really am sorry.”  “It’s never too late, not as long as we’re alive,” Melissa comforts her, having a hug and a cry and suddenly a wonderful relationship.

Not a moment too soon.  Jennifer goes to pack up her home and is in a car accident, left brain dead.  “I had finally found my daughter and was now about to lose her,” Melissa narrates.  The Steel giveth and the Steel taketh away.  Melissa’s character has had more hard knocks in her lifetime than a gallery of real-life women, but Danielle Steel keeps piling on the bad stuff.

“They’re waiting for you,” Melissa tells Jennifer’s body before they unplug the machine, listing all the people back to the Tsar whom she’s lost.  Melissa has a hard time crying because the prosthetic aging pieces on her face are glued on way too tight.  “Say hello to everyone,” she cries.  I half expected the ghosts of everyone to show up in the room, but it’s only Cameron, which his equally bad glued-on mustache and Melissa’s other son.

Things are not well in Cameron’s household either.  Not only does Susan not want to take Jennifer’s baby, but she couldn’t be bothered to be at the hospital when they let go of Jennifer.  They are headed for Splitsville.  On top of that (of course), Julian returns, demanding to have his daughter, but Melissa and her sons refuse.  As Julian forces the issue, Melissa reminds him that all of the money is in trust until the kid is 21.  She makes him an offer: he can certainly have his daughter, but there is no money to go with her (and that’s 15 years away), or he can take a cash settlement and be gone forever.  He takes the money.

My guess is that perennially young Melissa Gilbert refused to be properly aged for this movie, because only that would explain how she spends the rest of the movie limping around on a cane, but still sporting a mass of luxurious hair (tinted, of course) and a face and body that haven’t changed that much.  By now, her granddaughter is a ballerina, doing what her grandmother always dreamed of before revolution, marriage, death, financial ruin, two wars, a few kids, a dog and Peggy Cass got in the way.

The “Countess Zoya” empire is sold, leaving Melissa even wealthier than before, but “unemployed,” as she puts it.  Ah, but her loving family have a present for her, a trip to Russia with her granddaughter (Tiffany Amber Knight).  On her way out of the store for the last time, we have one of those beautiful Velveeta moments I mentioned at the onset: Melissa, surrounded by her family and stunning lighting, stops everything in the store dead in its tracks to make a goodbye speech.  Every extra over the age of 83 is used, because apparently Melissa was so loyal to her employees that no one ever left, so we see countless old ladies smiling as their commander says her farewells and then descends the spiral staircase for the last time.  Only on TV, folks.

That leaves us just with the return visit to Leningrad (it’s still Communist Russia, by this point).  Now the cheese is so thick, one can’t even pick up one’s feet to run from it.  Melissa and her granddaughter walk around all of Melissa’s old haunts, until coming to her home, which is now a museum.  Coming out is a gaggle of students, one who has just found a puppy that looks an awful lot like…yeah, I know, it’s too dumb to even finish that sentence.  Ignore the puppy, that’s just idiotic.  The Communist government turned the home of a Tsar’s niece into a museum and allows school trips there?  Why does that not sound right?  Anyway, Melissa hears one of the kids wonder if the little girl who saw her family massacred was sad and the teacher says, “time has a mysterious kindness.  It always gives back to us what we have lost through wisdom and memories.”  Does she believe it?  You bet!  They attend the Kirov, perhaps the only possible true detail of a return trip to Leningrad at this point in history.  While watching the ballet, Melissa reaches into her purse and pulls out…the egg!  Yes, to give it to her granddaughter.

Wait, she was allowed to schlep a Faberge egg into Communist Russia and walk around with it?  THAT’S the end?

I have to admit, I find “Zoya” incredibly fun.  It’s a typical romance story of a woman overcoming every possible obstacle a human can encounter.  It’s the basis for hundreds of empowering books every year.  The story itself is certainly nothing brilliant.  What makes “Zoya” more watchable than many of its miniseries sisters is that it knows the value of efficiency.  The scenes are quick and to-the-point, the pace breezy, not even slowing down to get too maudlin.  For instance, Jennifer’s death scene is handled so fast, as if they had the hospital set only for 10 minutes and had to get everything done.  But, that’s a hell of a lot better than turning it into an hour-long sobfest.

The other thing that makes “Zoya” watchable?  There is no attempt by the people who cast it to use anyone capable of merely adequate acting.  I don’t mean that to sound as nasty as it reads.  But, when you hire someone like Melissa Gilbert, you do not expect great fantastic acting.  You expect capable acting.  Therefore, there is no attempt by the script to overdo any emotional scenes.  Everything is kept in careful check.  Again, everything is in place to simply get the job done and tell the story.  It doesn’t need the frills that would weigh it down.  For that, it deserves a lot of credit.

Categories: Romance Miniseries

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