Nicholas and Alexandra
|Nicholas and Alexandra|
original movie poster
|Directed by||Franklin J. Schaffner|
|Produced by||Sam Spiegel|
|Written by||James Goldman
Robert K. Massie (book)
|Music by||Richard Rodney Bennett|
|Editing by||Ernest Walter|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Release dates||13 December 1971|
|Running time||189 minutes|
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.
The story begins in 1904 with the birth of the Tsarevich Alexei during the Russo-Japanese War. Tsar Nicholas (Michael Jayston) is warned by one of his ministers, Sergei Witte, (Laurence Olivier) and his uncle, Grand Duke Nicholas (Harry Andrews), the supreme military commander, that the war is futile, costing too many lives, logisitics are a serious problem and that Russia's international reputation will suffer should they lose to Japan (which is still considered militarily, socially and economically inferior to the European states). They also tell the Tsar that his subjects want more schools, more health clinics, labor laws, and most of all, to be allowed to participate in government by having an elected parliament. Nicholas dismisses Witte's concerns so he can maintain the autocracy his predecessors (ex. his father, Alexander III) left him, as well as Grand Duke Nicholas' concerns by saying that Russia has never lost any wars and will not in his reign. Meanwhile, in London, the underground Bolshevik Party led by Vladimir Lenin (Michael Bryant), Joseph Stalin (James Hazeldine) and Leon Trotsky (Brian Cox) is formed, but is nascent and fractured.
The Tsarina Alexandra (Janet Suzman), a German princess who is not highly thought of by the Russian royal court, attends the birthday celebration of Nicholas's mother, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna (Irene Worth), where she is introduced to Grigori Rasputin (Tom Baker), a charismatic Siberian peasant who describes himself as a holy man, and befriends him. The Dowager Empress echoes Witte's protests, stating that Nicholas needs to put all his attention and tax money into Russian problems and withdraw from the war, but the Tsar thinks he is being unfairly compared to his father. Nicholas and Alexandra return home to the palace from the birthday party to the grim news from the court physician, Dr. Botkin (Timothy West) that Alexei has hemophilia. As a carrier for the gene, being a granddaughter of England's Queen Victoria, Alexandra is not only anxious over Alexei's health, but is also racked with guilt for spreading hemophilia to him. When Alexei begins bleeding soon after being diagnosed, Alexandra summons Rasputin who prays for him, and Rasputin tells Alexandra that God speaks through him. The next day, Alexei is healed, and this solidifies Alexandra's love for Rasputin, whom she thinks means to help her son and save the dynasty.
A textile factory is shown where employees work under ghastly conditions. The workers are considering violence, but Father George Gapon (Julian Glover) suggests a peaceful and proper way to let their grievances be known. Gapon leads a huge crowd of workers in a peaceful procession to the Winter Palace to present a petition to the Tsar. Hundreds of soldiers stand in front of the palace. The commanding officer orders the crowd to turn back. Gapon responds that they are there to petition the Tsar, not to cause trouble. The captain of the guard orders warning volleys fired, but when he is thrown by his startled horse and trampled by the oncoming crowd, the soldiers fire directly into them. Nicholas is horrified and angry when he hears of the massacre (Bloody Sunday), but in a heated argument with Witte he admits wouldn't have granted the people's requests. In Switzerland, Lenin, Trotsky and the other revolutionaries read about it. Some Bolsheviks believe that this repression, combined with Russia's defeat by the Japanese, provides an opportunity for revolution, but Lenin subtly warns that they may lose by being too hasty.
Eight years later, in 1913, on the 300th anniversary of Romanov rule, the family is on vacation at the Livadia Palace in the Crimea. Alexei (Roderic Noble) is a lively boy who is prevented from leading a normal life. A close bond exists between Alexei and his bodyguard/protector, the sailor, Nagorny (John Hallam). Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin (Eric Porter), who succeeded Witte, has granted some of the people’s requests in order to preserve the Russian Empire. Stolypin presents Nicholas with police reports about Rasputin's dissolute behaviour, which is giving the Tsar a bad reputation. As a result, Nicholas dismisses Rasputin from the court. Alexandra demands his return, believing that only Rasputin can stop Alexei's bleeding attacks when they occur. Meanwhile, Lenin, Trotsky and their fellow revolutionaries discuss a recent raid of their explosives stash in Minsk and Lenin, after sending them home, reveals one of their own is a double agent for both the tsar's secret police and themselves and feels like giving up on the revolution.
The Tercentenary celebration occurs with much partying and festivities, although not to everyone's happiness, but soon takes a turn for the worse when Stolypin is shot in Kiev while attending the National Opera of Ukraine. Nicholas retaliates by uprooting the conspiracy and having the assassins executed, as well as closing the Duma and allowing the police to terrorise the peasants. However, at the Duma, one of the members, Alexander Kerensky (John McEnery), tells the Prime Minister, Vladimir Kokovtsov (Maurice Denham), that the tsar can close the Duma's meeting place, but not the Duma itself. He also states that most of the people are not rebels, wanting a system similar to England and other European monarchies where the commoners have a forum through parliament and the rule of law, but that the monarch can still be enthroned. The members demand that the Tsar be brought to them so they can tell him that. When Kokovtsov says that the Tsar is on vacation, Kerensky then says that if the Tsar will not come for their speech some ministers should instead go bring the speech to the Tsar, also warning that oppression brings revolution closer in Kerensky's warning of "Tell him, while there is still a Tsar left to tell!"
Alexei suffers a minor fall while the imperial family is at the imperial hunting lodge at Spala, Poland, which leads to his worst bleeding attack yet. It is thought that he will die from it. An effect of the Tsar's conflict between his political duty and family responsibilities is seen when ministers visit him at Spala saying that the people are unhappy, and the Tsar agrees to reinstate the Duma just to be rid of his ministers so he can focus on Alexei. The Tsarina sends a telegram to Rasputin, who soon responds, saying that Alexei will survive. The next morning, the Tsarevich makes a full recovery. When the royal family returns to St. Petersburg, Rasputin is allowed to return to court.
One night in 1914, Tsarevich Alexei wakes up screaming from a nightmare about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, part of Austria-Hungary. Despite warnings not to get involved, Nicholas orders a mobilization of troops near the German border, causing Germany to declare war on Russia, bringing about World War I. Russian generals break out into a patriotic party, predicting a war that should be over by Christmas and in the midst of a cheering Duma, Kerensky urges his countrymen that they must forget their political differences and that they "stand united in the defense of holy Russia." Sergei Witte, however, predicts disaster for Russia, warning the tsar and his staff that "none of you will be here when this war ends", and that "the victors will be as cursed as the defeated." The royal family is shown praying for Russia, then goes out to the balcony of the Winter Palace to bless the troops. After multiple montages of European leaders, the film pauses in an intermission.
In 1915, however, the Imperial Russian military is shown as a shell of its former self, poorly supplied and staffed by any man it can conscript. Desertion, insubordination and suicide are both prevalent, diametrically opposed to the overconfidence shown at the previous year's start of the war. Nicholas decides to command the troops himself and leaves for the front, relieving his more experienced first cousin once removed, Grand Duke Nicholas, and leaving Alexandra in charge at home. Under Rasputin's influence, Alexandra makes unwise decisions. Few Russians have been told about Alexei's illness or how Rasputin appears to help him. As such, it appears that the Tsarina is losing control and having an affair with Rasputin. In late 1916, at the front, Nicholas is visited by his mother, who is already critical of her son's lack of leadership abilities. She scolds him about not attending to domestic issues and implores him to execute Rasputin, fire the incompetent ministers that Rasputin appointed, send Alexandra to Livadia, and take charge of growing problems back in Saint Petersburg. She also chides her son that if his father was still alive, "he would have burnt Vienna down, stamped on the Germans, and shot all the strikers," as "he knew how to be a Tsar" and would do "anything to give Russia peace" and "would've certainly known how to deal with Rasputin". The mild-mannered Nicholas responds angrily to this comparison.
In late December, 1916, Grand Duke Dmitri (Richard Warwick) and Prince Felix Yusupov (Martin Potter), invite Rasputin to a party, acknowledging that revolution is coming but want to have some last chance fun before it happens. Apparently under the influence of drugs, the two young nobles and a fellow conspirator poison, shoot, then finally beat Rasputin to death. Deprived of Rasputin, Alexandra is depressed and unable to cope with political affairs. The army is ill supplied. Starving and freezing, the workers revolt (February Revolution) and St. Petersburg is overrun with them. Nicholas decides to return to Tsarskoye Selo, but is forced to abdicate on 15 March 1917 in his train at Mogilev, not only for himself but for Alexei.
At the Alexander Palace, Nicholas, Alexandra, their children, and their retinue are forced to live simply. Kerensky, now the head of the provisional government, sends for Nicholas and tells him that while he is trying to arrange a way to get the Romanovs out of Russia, none of Russia's Entente Powers Allies will accept them because of Nicholas's tyrannical rule. Even Nicholas' British cousin, King George V, refuses them shelter, afraid that a similar revolution would threaten his own throne. Kerensky, instead, sends them to Tobolsk, in Siberia. The family is housed there in less grand but reasonable conditions with rough but decent guards. In late 1917, however, Russia falls to the Bolshevik Party and the Russian Civil War begins shortly afterwards. On 30 April 1918, the family is then moved to the grim Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg. Under harsher conditions, they are guarded by the elderly Yakov Yurovsky (Alan Webb) and his squad of Soviet soldiers. One of the guards is cruel to Alexei and Nagorny comes to his defense. Nagorny is taken away and shot, leaving Alexei bitter and withdrawn. The Bolshevik leadership must then decide what to do with the prisoners as the White Army is on the verge on capturing Yekaterinburg. In a near-final scene, the family is shown laughing as they read previously-withheld letters from friends, relatives and teachers. Alexei remains aloof from their laughter, apparently sensing what will soon happen. In the early hours of 17 July 1918, the Romanovs and Dr. Botkin are awakened and told that they are to be evacuated. The family are escorted to the cellar, where they wait in silence. Yurovsky and his assistants enter the room and open fire. The end scene shows the wall covered in blood and dissolves into the final credits, where a burning red candle is shown, repeating the opening scene.
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.
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 Lawrence 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. 
"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
"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.
This soundtrack was written by Richard Rodney Bennett.
- Overture (02:19)
- Nicholas and Alexandra (01:26)
- The Royal Children (01:23)
- The Palace (01:00)
- Sunshine Days (03:21)
- Alexandra (01:18)
- The Romanov Tercentenary (00:52)
- Lenin in Exile (01:21)
- The Princessess (02:20)
- The Breakthrough (02:35)
- The Declaration of War (02:55)
- Extracte (02:40)
- The Journey to the Front (01:02)
- Military March (02:40)
- Rasputin's Death (01:28)
- The People Revolt (01:19)
- Alexandra Alone (01:11)
- Farewells (02:30)
- Dancing in the Snow (01:11)
- Departure from Tobolsk (01:30)
- Elegy (01:38)
- Epilogue (01:50)
Fact vs. fiction
||This article possibly contains original research. (January 2013)|
Some elements of the movie take creative license:
- Stolypin's assassination is portrayed accurately, but actually took place in 1911; he is shown attending the Tercentenary, which occurred in 1913.
- The party at which Rasputin is poisoned is based on evidence left by Prince Felix Yusupov. Rasputin is seen surviving the poisoning and numerous gunshot wounds, but there is evidence to suggest that Rasputin died from drowning after his body was pushed under the ice of the River Neva.
- The Tsarina Alexandra's German heritage is blamed for some of the family's unpopularity, but Alexandra was never really popular with the Russian people; her German background particularly burdened her during World War I when Russia was at war with Germany.
- When the Romanovs are executed, not a word is spoken to them prior to their death. Historical accounts indicate that an execution order was read to them beforehand.
- The house where the Romanovs were imprisoned in Tobolsk is depicted as very austere, when in fact they were housed in the former governor's mansion in great comfort. It was only in Yekaterinburg that their living conditions became much worse.
- Only Nicholas, Alexandra and Marie arrived together at the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg; Olga, Alexei, Tatiana and Anastasia arrived later due to Alexei's illness in Tobolsk.
- The Romanov family was executed together with four faithful servants: doctor Eugene Botkin, chambermaid Anna Demidova, cook Ivan Kharitonov, and footman Alexei Trupp. However, in the film only the family and the doctor are finally executed; the other characters do not appear in the film.
- There is no evidence that the scene with Grand Duchess Tatiana exposing her breasts to a Bolshevik soldier ever occurred.
- Alexander Kerensky informed Nicholas in summer 1917 that the United Kingdom would not accept him and the royal family as refugees. Britain did not wish to accept the Romanovs as they were seen as bloody tyrants; King George V in particular feared for his own throne if his Russian cousins came to Britain. When it was made public that the Romanovs would be sent abroad, the public outcry against it was so overwhelming that the provisional government decided to keep them as prisoners, as its own future was on shaky ground. It is claimed MI6 had proposed an idea of a covert extraction of the Tsar and his family, but this is considered speculation as no such a mission could be accomplished.
Although Robert Massie wrote the book upon which this film was based, he did not have complete information, for the Soviet government (in power at the time) 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.
- "NY Times: Nicholas and Alexandra". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-28.
- Kirgo, Julie "Nicholas and Alexandra" booklet, Twilight Time, 2013
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