Saturday, May 31, 2014

Serhii Plokhy's "The Last Empire"

Serhii Plokhy is the Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard University. A three-time recipient of the American Association for Ukrainian Studies prize and author of Yalta: The Price of Peace, Plokhy lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Here the author dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union:
The Last Empire is about the event that Vladimir Putin called the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century and that many of his opponents consider its brightest moment—the fall of the Soviet Union. Although my book is not fiction by any stretch of the imagination, it is hard to think of the downward spiral of the USSR in the last five months of 1991 (the chronological scope of my narrative) as anything but the closing act of a drama.

The main actors in the drama were President Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union, President George H. W. Bush of the United States, and the leaders of two Soviet republics, Boris Yeltsin of Russia and Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine. I also take a close look at the wives of my first two characters, Raisa Gorbachev and Barbara Bush.

Mikhail Gorbachev takes center stage in the book, as he had the most to gain or lose from the way things turned out. He lost it all—prestige, power, and country. Gorbachev’s personal drama—the story of a leader who dragged his country out of its totalitarian past, opened it to the world, introduced democratic procedures, and initiated economic reform, changing his homeland and the world around him so drastically that there was no place left for him—is the hinge of my narrative. I am not sure who would be better at playing Gorbachev, Kevin Spacey or Tom Hanks, but I have the perfect candidate for the role of his wife—the opinionated, outspoken, and controlling Raisa. That role should go to Vera Farmiga.

James Cromwell would be perfect as George H. W. Bush, the cautious and often humble leader of the Western world, whose backing of Gorbachev and insistence on the security of nuclear arsenals prolonged the existence of the Soviet empire but also ensured its peaceful demise. Cromwell did an excellent job of portraying Bush Sr. in W. and could do even better in a reprise. I have no doubt that Helen Mirren would shine as Barbara Bush, if only she would agree to the “demotion” of playing a US president’s wife after her spectacular portrayal of the queen of England.

Either Antonio Banderas or Russell Crowe would do a great job as Boris Yeltsin, the boorish and rebellious leader of Russia, who almost single-handedly defeated the military coup of August 1991 and then refused to take the route of the Serbian president, Slobodan Milošević, by attempting to save the crumbling empire or revise existing Russian borders. Finally, Leonid Kravchuk, the shrewd leader of Ukraine, whose insistence on his country’s independence doomed the Union, would be well portrayed by George Clooney, who would have to add a bit more gray hair. That should not be a problem, as he will probably have a year or two before shooting begins on a docudrama based on my book.
Learn more about The Last Empire at the Basic Books website.

--Marshal Zeringue