‘A Gentleman in Moscow’: Ewan McGregor Trapped In a Hotel In This Fascinating, Epic Series

Outside the Russian revolution is raging. Inside, McGregor plays a count resisting the forces of history.

Ewan McGregor in A Gentleman in Moscow. Ben Blackwell/Paramount+/Showtime

There are certain things that befit a nobleman, as Ewan McGregor’s Count Alexander Rostov explains in A Gentleman in Moscow. Things which include regular grooming appointments to keep one’s mustache in perfect shape, knowing exactly which varietal and year of wine to order with a particular dish and maintaining a sense of decorum. All of these begin to crumble when McGregor’s count is placed on a lifetime of house arrest in Moscow’s glamorous Hotel Metropol following the October Revolution in 1917, which transformed Russia into a socialist state. Alexander is banished to the hotel’s decrepit attic and told if he ever steps foot outside the building he will be killed. But these restraints are not enough to curtail his spirit as he continues to attend his weekly mustache sessions and annoys the servers with his mansplaining about wine. 

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Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ewan McGregor, and Alexa Goodall in A Gentleman in Moscow. Ben Blackall/Paramount+/Showtime

Based on Amor Towles’s popular novel A Gentleman in Moscow, the series follows Alexander’s endless days in the Metropol, where he encounters old friends (and enemies) and socializes with the other guests, including actress Anna Urbanova (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Creator Ben Vanstone deftly breaks the episodes into chapters—the series airs weekly—and each showcases a segment of Alexander’s imprisonment. Sometimes, like when a young guest gifts him a skeleton key to the hotel, there’s hope. Other times, like when an imperious server complains about Alexander, resulting in all of the wine labels being removed from the bottles in the cellar, the walls seem to confine him even more. Despite his pretension and obsession with status, we’re meant to empathize with the count, a man grasping onto tradition in a time when change is inevitable. 

The production design helps, creating a world within the hotel that we rarely leave (the show was shot in England, not Russia). The lingering glitz of the luxury hotel grates against the events outside, where the Bolsheviks are tearing up the imperial gardens and killing Alexander’s royal pals. Oddly, all of the Russia characters speak with a British accent, including McGregor and Winstead, and it’s jarring. What is Hollywood’s obsession with making all foreigners—save for villains and terrorists—British? Winstead, an American, learned an accent for the series, but not the one that corresponds to where it is set. Despite this glaring lack of continuity, the events unfold with a deft visual and tonal style, augmented by McGregor’s spot-on performance, which shifts effortlessly between showmanship and vulnerability. 

A Gentleman in Moscow features eight episodes, with the finale coming in May. It’s a treat to watch them weekly, our own reminder of past traditions we can’t quite let go of, and the series is effective when consumed in these chapter-like glimpses at Alexander’s life inside the hotel. His relationship with Osip Glebnikov (Johnny Harris), the count’s hard-faced keeper, is one of the most compelling in the early episodes, as his connection to Nina, a fellow guest who becomes important in the count’s later life. Like the novel, the series covers many years, with time jumps and new characters throughout, creating an epic narrative scale within a physically small space. It’s a satisfying watch whether you’re read Towles’s book or not, and McGregor embodies the protagonist with a complexity that honors the show’s source material. None of us would enjoy the life he builds within the Metropol, gentlemanly status or not, but it’s fascinating to observe from afar. 

‘A Gentleman in Moscow’: Ewan McGregor Trapped In a Hotel In This Fascinating, Epic Series