Citizen K




A fresh and enhanced telling of a real-life tale that continues to be relevant.

Citizen K


The exceedingly rich Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky who incurred the wrath of President Putin has not been neglected by filmmakers. In 2012, we saw here Khodorkovsky a documentary feature to which Cyril Tuschi had devoted five years and which he made when Khodorkovsky was in a Siberian prison following charges of fraud, embezzlement and tax evasion. The subject was taken up again in 2015 but that piece, Eric Bergkraut’s Citizen Khodorkovsky, was not to my knowledge shown here. Now, however, we have this new film from that well-established American documentarist Alex Gibney who also acts as the film’s narrator and offers a work that takes account of what has happened since those earlier pieces appeared.


Inevitably, the films by Tuschi and Gibney to a great extent cover the same ground, not least in covering Khodorkovsky’s rise to prominence as a capitalist entrepreneur and in revealing clearly the absurdity of the charges made against him when he was twice brought to trial and found guilty. The big difference between these two films is Gibney’s opportunity to bring the story up-to-date and, since Putin’s pardoning of prisoners just ahead of the Russian Winter Olympics in 2014 led to even Khodorkovsky being released, that means that much of his life story is now told by the man himself.


If Khodorkovsky is today an exile unable to return to Russia that is because he has now been charged in his absence with a killing in 1998. Whether or not he was responsible for that death, it seems likely that his success in the business world involved much that was ruthless at best and was probably criminal at worst. Indeed, Khodorkovsky himself suggests here that his ten years in prison made him a better man, adding, “I am far from an ideal person, but I am a person of ideals”. In proof of that last fact following his arrival in London in 2014 he has founded the human rights organisation ‘Open Russia’ and has become one of Putin’s foremost critics.


There may be a danger here of Gibney’s film too readily endorsing Khodorkovsky’s own slant on his life, but his behaviour in prison was bravely defiant and in passing we learn of two occasions when he went on hunger strike to protest against the treatment of colleagues at the hands of the authorities. Furthermore, Citizen K carries weight as an informative documentary almost as much concerned with Putin as it is with its declared subject. In fact this helps to justify the length (it is even longer than Tuschi’s film) since it extends naturally to such recent events as the Salisbury poisonings and other equally dramatic incidents which explain why as a Russian patriot Khodorkovsky should continue to regard Putin as somebody who must be confronted. There may be nothing particularly cinematic in Gibney’s film but it sets out complicated history with clarity and, even if one has already seen Tuschi’s documentary, this one in updating Khodorkovsky’s story contains additional material of note that is much more than just a coda to what was on screen before.




Featuring  Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Leonid Nevzlin, Anton Drel, Martin Sixsmith, Derek Sauer, Tatyana Lysova, Maria Logan, Arkady Ostrovsky and the voice of Alex Gibney as narrator.


Dir Alex Gibney, Pro John Battsek, Alex Gibney, P.J. van Sandwijk, George Chignell and Erin Edeiken, Screenplay Alex Gibney, Ph Mark Garrett and Denis Sinyakov, Ed Michael J. Palmer, Music Robert Logan and Ivor Guest.


Kew Media/Passion Pictures/Jigsaw productions/Storyteller Productions-Wildcard Distribution.
126 mins. UK/USA. 2019. Rel: 13 December 2019. Cert. 15.