This is a picture that really matters in the history of the kinema, in as much as its treatment is wholly kinematographic. It borrows nothing from the stage either dramatically or scenically, and is a revelation in the value on the screen of line, light, and shadow.
This remarkable production of Paul Leni has been called experimental, and so it may have been in 1924. Even to-day it has a freshness of vision, an imaginative daring, that is captivating. But there is nothing crude or thin about it. On the contrary, it is a mellow, deep-toned production; it seems, as it were, very sure of itself. (…)
Conrad Veidt’s impersonation of the tragic Tsaris truly brilliant. For tragic he makes him, despite his horrible cruelties, and thus saves the whole thing from sheer gruesomeness. He invests the central figure with a fanaticism, a fatality, from which he himself cannot escape. The atmosphere of overhanging doom is heightened by the producer’s masterly manipulation of the Russian forms of architecture. It is said that Paul Leni was once an architect and a scenic artist. In any case, he must have studied architectural expression very closely, and is able to extract a degree of meaning from the shapes of his settings that I have never seen equalled.
Michael Orme, The Illustrated London News,21.7.1928