Cloaked in a Romeo-Juliet narrative, Michael Lockshin’s debut period drama, Silver Skates, talks gracefully about women’s liberation and class conflicts. The film has subtle, nuanced characters and a romance at its heart. Above all, it tries its best to express a valuable message. The story is based on Hans Brinker; or, The Silver Skates, written by American author Mary Mapes Dodge.
Matvey works as a delivery boy for a confectionery store in Imperial Saint Petersburg (capital of Russia during the late 19th century). The Christmas weather transforms the capital city into a frosty wonderland with frozen rivers and canals. The ambiance favors Matvey as his special skills include ice-skating, which helps him to make deliveries with blazing speed, throughout the city. But on an unusual day, Matvey gets late for his delivery due to a roadblock created for an aristocrat. It is the commencement of his dislike for the upper class because due to a delay caused by them, Matvey loses his job.
On the other side of the story, there is an aristocratic intellectual noble, Alisa. She wants to run away from the richness of her father, Nikolai Vyazemsky. Alisa’s father is a tsarist minister who ardently believes that higher education is not a part of women’s needs. Nikolai wants Alisa to learn etiquette and delicacies, which would make her fit for the Russian Imperial Society.
A lost Matvey, while helping an individual on the street, meets Alex, who will shape his life in unfathomable ways. Matvey gets involved with a group of pickpockets led by a Marxist, Alex. He believes that usurpers (the rich and the important) exploit the poor and live off them. The pickpockets’ gang, therefore, steals from the rich and keeps the riches for themselves. Initially, Matvey takes the job without any agenda. But when his father is diagnosed with phthisis, he diligently steals to afford treatment in Germany.
A stupid bet compels Matvey to climb the balcony of the palace at night. He is asked by his new gang to disfigure a graven image. Accidentally, he meets Alisa. The curious gaze kindles an unspoken infatuation between them. The story further explores their prospering romance. While an officer of the law and Alisa’s admirer, Prince Arkadiy Trubetskoy, assembles a task force “speed-skating squad” to catch the skating pickpocketers.
Major Spoilers Ahead
‘Silver Skates’ Ending Explained
Alisa tried her best to persuade her father for higher education. But like an authoritarian, he denied Alisa’s plea. With no option left to her disposal, Alisa ran away from home and reached Matvey’s hideout.
Matvey had recently learned about his father’s demise and thus was left with no motivation to continue stealing. His late father wasn’t happy with his son’s new profound profession and wanted him to stop. Alisa came to meet Matvey and expressed her desire to flee to Paris, where she would study further. Alisa invited Matvey as well to be a companion in her journey and in her life.
But before the romantics could run away, Arkadiy raided the hideout (shipwreck). Duke, one of the members of the gang, snitched them out. Alex decided to trade Alisa in exchange for the safety of his comrades. But Matvey took a stand against it. Finally, Arkadiy took Alisa and all the pickpocketers except Alex and Matvey.
Being a true friend, Alex saved Matvey’s life and made him jump in the defrosted river. The guard overlooked Matvey, but one of them took a shot aiming at Alex.
Matvey was saved by the fishermen who recovered his body and admitted him to the hospital. While he was in the hospital and bed-ridden, Nikolai fixed Alisa and Arkadiy’s marriage. On new year’s eve, Matvey sneaked into a grand party and convinced Alisa to run away to Paris with him.
The couple was headed to St. Petersburg railway station when at the party, Arkadiy spotted Matvey’s ticket to Paris, which Matvey had accidentally dropped near the balcony. Without wasting a moment, Arkadiy chased the romantics. Still, in a final face-off between Matvey and Arkadiy, Matvey recovered his ticket and boarded the train in motion. Arkadiy took a shot on Matvey that targeted his chest. But, Matvey was saved.
Matvey was saved by his silver skates or the magical skates as his father used to call them. The bullet struck the skates placed near his chest, thereby saving his life. The romantics left St. Petersburg for a better and happy life. 4 years later, when Nikolai learned about his daughter’s achievement in chemistry, he decided to amend the Russian Charter to allow women to teach at the university. It was the only soulful transformation that the film had.
In the closing shot, Alisa and Matvey lived happily with their son, who is trying to learn the skating skills of his father.
Silver Skates is a 2021 Russian Period Drama directed by debut director Michael Lockshin.