She was referred to as “Soviet Sophia Loren” and “the most beautiful Kremlin weapon.” But who was the Red Queen? Was she the queen of the catwalk or a KGB agent seducing foreign diplomats? How did she manage to succeed and what was the price she had to pay? The life of Regina Zbarskaya, the most famous USSR, is full of mystery and drama.
In 1950’s Communist Russia, a family tragedy leaves Zoya Kolesnikova a stigmatized orphan. Leaving her home town, she heads to Moscow to escape her past. While there she adopts the name Regina. With the help of a benefactress,she reinvents herself through education and determination.
Initially she pursues her mother’s dream of becoming an accountant, but a chance encounter leads her into the world of fashion. Regina works hard not only to become a clothes model but also to overcome past mistakes. Eventually, she realizes success not only in Russia but also world wide. But past traumas still haunt her and a life of fame has its’ price.
I don’t know why and I can’t help it, but I am fascinated by Russian history and culture. So, when The Red Queen popped up in my Amazon Prime feed, it caught my eye. With its focus on the Russian fashion industry (which I didn’t even know existed) and the 1950’s-1960’s setting, I was sold.
I didn’t realize when I started watching, but The Red Queen is based on the real life of Regina Zbarskaya. I’m not sure how closely the series reflects her life, but I found the behind the scenes look at Russian fashion in the Communist era fascinating.
I was really surprised by how honestly the impact and effects of communism were portrayed in this series. Even among those whose lives appear privileged, the totalitarianism of the governing system left almost no room for personal freedom. The beauty and creativity of the fashion world provides a stark contrast to the harsh expectations and requirements imposed. Perhaps the worst example comes in the form of Marina, who is refused permission to marry a wealthy charming man who loves her, simply because he is French. She is berated for showing interest in a capitalist and forced into spying for the KGB. A subsequent encounter with her handler shows him both verbally and physically assaulting her with tragic consequences.
Regina’s rise from an impoverished, small town girl, to a woman celebrated for her beauty, poise and sophistication is fascinating. One would think it is a story of strength and victory but in reality it is one of survival. Regina’s life is littered with tragedies, betrayals and loneliness. Even with her triumphs, her story is rather bleak. I actually ended up skipping a couple of episodes simply because I couldn’t handle the hopelessness of it all. It’s even worse knowing that the story is based on the life of someone real. It breaks my heart to think of it. The actress who plays Regina also breaks my heart with her portrayal of a woman who secretly just wants a family of her own to belong to.
Despite the melancholy story, the quality of the production is very well done. The settings and costumes are absolutely gorgeous. And I really enjoyed being introduced to mid-century Moscow and St. Petersburg. I had a concept in my mind of a gloomy, colorless, communist Russia, but the reality was different despite the restrictions placed on everyday life.
With its’ tragic ending I found The Red Queen as a whole to be more bleak than expected. However, I still recommend it. I think viewers will be moved with compassion by Regina’s story. I also think they will be surprised and educated by the portrayal of life in Russia during this era. This twelve episode series is available with English subtitles through Amazon Prime. All photos are my own screen shots.
For more information on the life of Regina Zbarskaya, I recommend this article by KinoKultura.