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'The Romanoffs' questions lineage, loneliness in tales of royal delusion

"These characters are then having to face the sort of hard, cold fact that maybe you're not as special as you think."

Kerry Bishé stars in Amazon Studios' "The Romanoffs,"

Kerry Bishé stars in Amazon Studios' "The Romanoffs," an anthology series about people who believe they're royals.  Photo Credit: Amazon Studios / Jan Thijs

The characters in Matthew Weiner’s “The Romanoffs” have little in common — it is an anthology series, after all.

The first two episodes, now on Amazon Prime, encompass the individual stories of a man who’s caught between the likes of his aunt and girlfriend and a couple living an illusion as their marriage crumbles.

Placing their narratives on opposite ends of the world, only one minor factor draws a connection between the two: In each, someone believes they’re a descendant of the infamous Romanov (or Romanoff) family.

“I’m glad you said people who believe they’re descendants of the lost, because I don’t know how legitimate any of the claims to Romanov heritage are,” says “The Royal We” (episode 2) actress Kerry Bishé. “I think they might all be fake.”  

It’s a loose tie. It’s one that’s impossible to trace given the entire Russian royal family was executed in July 1918. And it’s one that only comes up in passing in the “Mad Men” creator’s latest standalone scripts that offer an hour-and-a-half glimpse into the lives of strangers.

“I think people question who they are, what their purpose is in life, why they’re not bold enough to live that purpose,” actor Aaron Eckhart says. “There is a certain amount of either conscious or subconscious shame that you carry around with you and that obviously bleeds into these relationships.”

When the Romanoff connection does rear its head, it’s in the form of an elitist sense of entitlement.

“These characters are then having to face the sort of hard, cold fact that maybe you’re not as special as you think,” Bishé says.

In her episode, she plays the near-invisible wife of a descendant who goes on an other-worldly Romanoff-themed cruise alone while her husband (Corey Stoll) has an affair with a woman he meets while serving jury duty.

“He’d rather do jury duty than go on the trip with her, which I think is really revealing,” she says. “She is struggling in her marriage and it ends up taking an extreme and completely absurd event to make her really honestly and objectively look at the extent that her relationship has gone.”

That realization culminates in an open-to-interpretation ending, which will leave you either wanting more or wondering why it took so long to get there in the first place.

It’s the same formula for Eckhart’s episode, “The Violet Hour,” and the ones that follow.

Set in Paris, the Romanoff connection is most apparent, or most believable, in “The Violet Hour,” where a wealthy woman lives in a lavish apartment once owned by her royal ancestors.

“I don’t know if it’s true she comes from the royal family or if she makes it up. I was talking to Matthew and it could be she wants it so much she lies and believes herself,” says actress Marthe Keller. She appears as Eckhart’s sobby, frail aunt who can’t keep a housekeeper.

It’s her story that helps provide the clarity you need to make it through the rest of Weiner’s narratives, offering up all the central themes that appear from time to time -- delusion, loneliness and a deep-rooted respect for one’s lineage.

Unlike most streaming service series these days, Weiner’s “Romanoffs” will roll out one episode at a time weekly. New episodes drop Fridays for Amazon Prime Video subscribers.

STREAMING ‘The Romanoffs’ is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

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