Nicholas and Alexandra

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Nicholas and Alexandra
Nicholas and alexandra.jpg
original movie poster
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
Produced by Sam Spiegel
Written by James Goldman
Robert K. Massie (book)
Starring Michael Jayston,
Janet Suzman
Music by Richard Rodney Bennett
Cinematography Freddie Young
Edited by Ernest Walter
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates 13 December 1971 (1971-12-13)
Running time 189 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Nicholas and Alexandra is a 1971 biographical film which partly tells the story of the last Russian monarch, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and his wife, Tsarina Alexandra.

The film was adapted by James Goldman from the book by Robert K. Massie. It was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner.

It won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (John Box, Ernest Archer, Jack Maxsted, Gil Parrondo, Vernon Dixon) and Best Costume Design (Yvonne Blake, Antonio Castillo), and was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Janet Suzman), Best Cinematography, Best Music, Original Dramatic Score and Best Picture.[1]


The story begins with the birth of Tsarevich Alexei in 1904 during the Russo-Japanese War. Tsar Nicholas (Michael Jayston) is warned by Count Witte (Laurence Olivier) and Grand Duke Nicholas (Harry Andrews) that the war is futile and costing too many lives. They also tell him the Russian people want more hospitals, workers' rights, and a parliament, but Nicholas cites the divine right of kings to maintain the autocracy. Meanwhile, underground political parties led by Vladimir Lenin (Michael Bryant), Joseph Stalin (James Hazeldine) and Leon Trotsky (Brian Cox) have formed.

The Tsarina Alexandra (Janet Suzman) is disliked by the Russian royal court on account of being German. She befriends Grigori Rasputin (Tom Baker), a Siberian peasant who describes himself as a holy man. Shortly after Alexei's birth, the Tsar's personal physician Dr. Botkin (Timothy West) has diagnosed the Tsarevitch with hemophilia, causing the Tsaritsa to react with frantic anger at her husband and the doctors.

A trip to bless deploying soldiers is cut short when Dr. Botkin sends a telegram that Alexei is bleeding. Alexandra prays fervently for her son's recovery, and is met by Rasputin. The following morning the baby makes a full recovery, and Alexandra becomes confident in Rasputin's supposed healing ability.

Working under appalling conditions, the people are encouraged by Father George Gapon (Julian Glover) to take part in a peaceful procession to the Winter Palace to present a petition to the Tsar. Hundreds of soldiers stand in front of the palace and fire into the crowd. Nicholas hears of the (Bloody Sunday) massacre. Although upset over the death of the peasants, he admits he wouldn't have granted the people's requests.

1913 marks the 300th anniversary of Romanov rule. The family holidays at the Livadia Palace in the Crimea. Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin (Eric Porter) has preserved the Russian Empire by commissioning a parliament and granting some of the people's requests. He presents Nicholas with police reports about Rasputin's dissolute behaviour, which is damaging the Tsar's reputation. Nicholas dismisses Rasputin from the court. Alexandra demands his return, but Nicholas stands firm on his decision, choosing his minister's advice over his wife's nagging.

The Tercentenary occurs, but Stolypin is shot at the Kiev opera. Nicholas retaliates, not only by having the conspirators executed, but also by allowing police to terrorise the peasants and dissolving the Duma.

Alexei falls at the Spala Hunting Lodge, which leads to another bleeding attack. Meanwhile, ministers have visited Spala expressing the outrage, and Nicholas decides to reinstate the Duma simply to placate the people and be rid of his ministers so he can focus on family matters, as it is assumed Alexei will die. The Tsarina writes to Rasputin, who responds with words of comfort. The Tsarevich recovers and Rasputin returns.

World War I begins in 1914 a few weeks after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, part of Austria-Hungary. Nicholas orders a full mobilization of the Russian army on the German border and as a result Germany declares war. He decides to command the troops in 1915 and leaves for the front, taking over from the experienced Grand Duke Nicholas. Alexandra is in charge at home. Under Rasputin's influence, she makes poor decisions. The Tsarina is losing control and Rasputin's behavior has not changed. Nicholas is visited by his mother Dowager Empress Maria Foeodorovna (Irene Worth), who is critical of his incompetence. She scolds him about avoiding domestic issues and implores him to eliminate Rasputin and to send Alexandra to Livadia in the Crimea. Grand Duke Dmitri (Richard Warwick) and Prince Felix Yusupov (Martin Potter), invite Rasputin to a party and murder him in December 1916.

Alexandra continues her misrule. The army is ill supplied. Starving and freezing, the workers revolt in St. Petersburg in February 1917. Nicholas decides to return to Tsarskoye Selo too late and is forced to abdicate in his train at Mogilev on 15 March 1917.

The family with Dr. Botkin and attendants leave Tsarskoye Selo and are exiled by Kerensky to Tobolsk in Siberia in August 1917. They live guarded under comfortable but less grand conditions. In October 1917, Russia falls to the Bolsheviks. The family is transferred to the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg. Under harsher conditions they are guarded by the cold-blooded Yakov Yurovsky (Alan Webb). One of the guards attempts to steal Alexei's watch and Nagorny, his personal bodyguard, leaps to his defense, attacking the guard. Nagorny is taken away and shot. During a near-final scene, the family are laughing as they read withheld letters from friends, teachers and relatives. In the early hours of 17 July 1918, the Bolsheviks wake up the Romanov family and Dr. Botkin to tell them they must leave. They wait in the cellar. Yurovsky and his assistants enter the room and open fire. The scene fades out and a candle is shown burning as the film's theme plays, much like in the opening credits.



Producer Sam Spiegel tackled Nicholas and Alexandra when he was shut out from working with director David Lean on Doctor Zhivago which was also set against the backdrop of revolutionary Russia. Spiegel had alienated Lean when the two worked together constantly dogging the perfectionist director in order to get the film Lawrence of Arabia finished on time. Spiegel initially tried to make Nicholas and Alexandra without buying the rights to the book by Robert K. Massie's claiming the story was in public domain but, eventually, Spiegel purchased the rights and hired writer James Goldman to do the adaption of Massie's book.

Goldman, who had written the popular play and film The Lion in Winter, labored on draft after draft as directors came and went (George Stevens, Anthony Harvey, Joseph Mankiewicz and Charles Jarrot were all attached to the project at one point). After seeing Patton, Goldman recommended Franklin J. Schaffner (who would go on to win his Best Director Academy Award while working on Nicholas and Alexandra).

Producer Spiegel turned to former collaborators John Box to do the production design and cinematographer Freddie Young (Lawrence of Arabia) to work on the film so as to give the production the epic touch he felt it needed.

The location filming of the movie was in Spain and Yugoslavia.

Spiegel had to work with stricter budget constraints from Columbia than before preventing him from achieving his first choices for the leads (Peter O'Toole as Rasputin and Vanessa Redgrave as Alexandra) and, while well known actors such as Laurence Olivier and Jack Hawkins appeared in the film, actor Rex Harrison turned down a supporting role because he felt it was too small.

Despite the detailed production design, photography and strong performances from the cast, "Nicholas and Alexandra" failed to find the large audience it needed to be a financial success.[2]


Nicholas and Alexandra was nominated for three Golden Globes including Best Supporting Actor and Most Promising Newcomer for actor Tom Baker (who was recommended to the producer and director by Lawrence Oliver for the role) and Best Actress for Janet Suzman.

The film received three nominations from BAFTA including Best Actress and Most Promising Newcomer for Janet Suzman and Best Costume Design.

Nicholas and Alexandra was recognized by the National Board of Review as one of the Top 10 Films of 1972.

The score by Richard Rodney Bennett was nominated for a Grammy.

The film was nominated six Academy Awards including Best Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction however the film won only two Oscars for Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction.

Home Video Release[edit]

"Nicholas and Alexandra" received a home video release on VHS in 1987 by RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video and reissued in the 1990s by Columbia Tristar Home Video. Its DVD was on 27 July 1999 from Sony. The DVD featured a vintage 14 minute featurette on the production of the film and six more minutes of scenes and dialogue not found on 1987's VHS. The film received a Blu-ray release in February 2013 from Twilight Time. The Blu-ray featured three featurettes on the production of the film covering the make up, costume designs and the actresses playing the Tsar's daughters in the film. The original theatrical trailer as well as an isolated music score. The isolated music track was presented in stereo even though the sound on the Blu-ray was presented in mono. The Blu-ray release was limited to only 3000 copies.[3]


This soundtrack was written by Richard Rodney Bennett.

  1. Overture (02:19)
  2. Nicholas and Alexandra (01:26)
  3. The Royal Children (01:23)
  4. The Palace (01:00)
  5. Sunshine Days (03:21)
  6. Alexandra (01:18)
  7. The Romanov Tercentenary (00:52)
  8. Lenin in Exile (01:21)
  9. The Princessess (02:20)
  10. The Breakthrough (02:35)
  11. The Declaration of War (02:55)
  12. Extracte (02:40)
  13. The Journey to the Front (01:02)
  14. Military March (02:40)
  15. Rasputin's Death (01:28)
  16. The People Revolt (01:19)
  17. Alexandra Alone (01:11)
  18. Farewells (02:30)
  19. Dancing in the Snow (01:11)
  20. Departure from Tobolsk (01:30)
  21. Elegy (01:38)
  22. Epilogue (01:50)

Historical sources[edit]

Although Robert Massie wrote the book upon which this film was based, he did not have complete information because the Soviet government would not permit the release of all relevant records. Twenty years after the film debuted, the Soviet Union fell and the records of the Romanovs were released. Massie later wrote a continuation, The Romanovs: The Final Chapter.


  1. ^ "NY Times: Nicholas and Alexandra". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 
  2. ^ Kirgo, Julie "Nicholas and Alexandra" booklet, Twilight Time, 2013
  3. ^

External links[edit]