Robert Donat did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying A.J. Fothergill also known as "Peter Ouranoff" in Knight Without Armour.
Robert Donat again is one of the more underrated actors from the period known only today, if at all, as the man who beat James Stewart and Clark Gable for the 1939 best actor Oscar. Donat deserves more and here's a good example why in his role as a British ex-patriot recruited to spy for the Russians. The film's synopsis though might sound like it might offer a bit more complications with the whole being a spy thing, but really that is just the set up to place our hero into the setting. Old Fothergill's close calls come just with the habit of the Reds and the Whites executing whoever they feel like whenever they feel like it, they almost never come from him actually being a spy. This makes his performance perhaps a bit less duplicitous than you might expect, although this is not a criticism against Donat by any means. The character of Fothergill is simply a hero for us to follow through the chaos of the Russian Revolution.
Donat of course works very well as that hero as he has this very low key appeal to him. Donat finds charm just basically in his unassuming style which works particularly well for this role where his character wants to keep a low profile. Again though the spying is not focused upon too much in a way Donat does a good job of showing the way he fits in by being basically that guy off to the side in any given situation. Donat exudes the right lack of pretense showing a man who there is no reason to notice since it does not appear as though he means any harm to anyone. Although this approach works for awhile for Fothergill a problem arises when he crosses path with the Russian Countess Alexandra Adraxine (Marlene Dietrich) who he decides to save from certain death from the revolutionaries due to her family heritage and social standing.
Now I have to admit the biggest surprise for me in this film as Dietrich's performance since she's not doing that worldly colder style that defined many of her performance. Dietrich plays her character here with a certain naivety which I actually took be aback I have to admit. As one would expect the focus in the film becomes a romance between the two as they attempt to escape Russian alive. Donat, from what I've seen, seems particularly proficient at striking up chemistry with his co-stars. Even in very rushed circumstances he just seems to make it work, and that's is the case herre as well. They become quite the endearing pair and the romance feels honest, perhaps it's because Donat is just so likable. The two make it work and in turn make the film actually work as they manage to create an investment in seeing the two get out of it alive together. Donat furthers this though by offering such a genuine presence throughout the film. He creates so much of the tension through his silent reactions throughout the film, and is particularly effective later on in realizing the horror of the constant executions in such a nuanced fashion. Although I will admit going in I did expect a more complex character for Donat to work with, this is still another strong performance from the underrated actor.