Russians revive tale of Ivan the Terrible in 16-part TV series

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He relied on a brutal, early version of the secret police. He murdered some of his opponents with his own hands. Yet Tsar Ivan the Terrible also united Russia, opened diplomatic relations with England and wrote music. Now the complex royal character is to come to TV screens in a 16-part series, and its director believes Russian audiences are ready for some serious historical drama.

Violent thrillers and reality shows have replaced Communist propaganda on Russian television and, like western viewers, Russians complain that there is little worth watching on television.

"Unfortunately, Russians don't know their history very well, especially before 1917," said director Andrei Eshpai, who is making Ivan Grozny (Ivan the Terrible) for release in 2009. "History in our cinema was often tendentious and there were few possibilities for doing good historical drama on TV ... Those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it."

If the contradictions of the Putin era are still far too fresh to absorb, and even Stalin's times too close and painful to examine, then the period of Ivan IV (1530-1584) is distant enough to allow Russians to ponder on their penchant for leaders who crack them into shape...

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