Stephen Lovell at The Times Literary Supplement:
We are left pondering several related questions: how did Rasputin survive as long as 1916; what was it about him that made the imperial couple shut their eyes to his ostensible turpitude; and what did his influence on them amount to? The reasons for Rasputin’s longevity lie partly within the imperial couple themselves. Nicholas was reserved and diffident, Alexandra was mystically inclined and pathologically private, but they both believed absolutely in the prerogatives of autocracy. They craved emotional support from someone who was not part of or beholden to the court elite around them. As Smith points out, Rasputin was not the first “Our Friend” at the imperial residence of Tsarskoe Selo: in the early 1900s Nicholas and Alexandra had been intimate with a renowned occultist named Monsieur Philippe, parting with him only after being told repeatedly of the damage he was doing to their reputation. It was only a matter of time before the Frenchman was replaced by someone closer to home. Rasputin was the right candidate at the right moment: as an authentic Russian peasant, a native of Siberia, that bastion of fearless and uncorrupted national values, he offered the imperial couple a direct line to “the people” and indulged their belief that they ruled in the interests of common folk and in defiance of treacherous urban elites. Perhaps Nicholas and Alexandra were not entirely misguided: the elites of court and high officialdom were hardly the most reliable source of disinterested information or intelligent insight, as Smith shows us at many turns.