Nicholas and Alexandra

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Nicholas and Alexandra
Nicholas and alexandra.jpg
Original theatrical release poster
Directed byFranklin J. Schaffner
Screenplay byJames Goldman
Edward Bond[1]
Based onNicholas and Alexandra
by Robert K. Massie
Produced bySam Spiegel
CinematographyFreddie Young
Edited byErnest Walter
Music byRichard Rodney Bennett
Distributed byColumbia Pictures (through Columbia=Warner Distributors[2])
Release date
  • 13 December 1971 (1971-12-13)
Running time
188 minutes[2]
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget~$9 million[3]
Box office$7 million (rentals)[4]

Nicholas and Alexandra is a 1971 British epic historical drama film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, from a screenplay written by James Goldman, and Edward Bond, based on Robert K. Massie's 1967 book of the same name, which is a partial account of the last ruling Russian monarch, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and his wife, Tsarina Alexandra. It stars Michael Jayston and Janet Suzman, in the titular roles.

Nicholas and Alexandra was theatrically released on 13 December 1971 by Columbia Pictures to mixed reviews and commercial failure, grossing $7 million a $9 million budget. Regardless, the film received six nominations at the 44th Academy Awards, including for the Best Picture, and won two awards; Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.[5]


The film opens in 1904 with Alexei's birth during the Russo-Japanese War. Tsar Nicholas II is warned by his cousin Grand Duke Nicholas and the Prime Minister Count Sergei Witte that the war is futile and costing too many lives. They also tell him there is a rising demand by the Russian people for representative government, health care, voting, and workers' rights, but Nicholas wants to maintain the autocracy. Meanwhile, underground political parties led by Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky have formed.

Alexei, the only son of Nicholas II and heir apparent to the throne, is diagnosed with haemophilia, a life-threatening disease. The Tsarina Alexandra, a German princess, is disliked by the Russian imperial court. In 1905, Alexandra befriends Grigori Rasputin, a Siberian peasant passing as a holy man, hoping he will heal Alexei.

That same year, factory workers are encouraged by Father Georgy Gapon to take part in a peaceful procession to the Winter Palace to present a petition to the Tsar. However, hundreds of soldiers standing in front of the palace fire into the crowd, causing the Bloody Sunday massacre. Nicholas is horrified by the violence, but admits he would never have granted the people's requests.

In 1913 the family holidays at the Livadia Palace in the Crimea. Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin has preserved the Russian Empire by addressing some of the people's grievances. 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, as she believes only Rasputin can stop Alexei's bleeding attacks, but Nicholas stands firm.

The 1913 Romanov Tercentenary celebrations occur and a lavish Royal Tour across Imperial Russia ensues, but crowds are thin. Other national festivities and Church celebrations go ahead, but at an event at the Kiev Opera House, Prime Minister Stolypin is assassinated. Nicholas executes the assassins and closes the Duma, allowing police to terrorize many peasants.

Alexei falls at the Spała Hunting Lodge, which leads to a bleeding attack so severe that it is presumed he will die. The Tsarina writes to Rasputin, who responds with words of comfort. Alexei recovers and Rasputin returns.

When World War I begins, Nicholas orders a full mobilization of the Imperial Russian Army on the German border, prompting Germany to declare war and activate a series of its alliances that escalates the war. A year later, with the war going badly for Russia, Alexandra persuades him to take personal command of the troops; he leaves for the front, taking over from his experienced cousin, Grand Duke Nicholas.

Alexandra is left in charge at home and, under Rasputin's influence, makes poor decisions. Nicholas is visited by his mother Dowager Empress Feodorovna, who scolds him about neglecting domestic issues and implores him to eliminate Rasputin and send Alexandra to Livadia. Concerned about Rasputin's influence, Grand Duke Dmitri and Prince Felix Yusupov invite Rasputin to a party in December 1916 and eventually succeed in murdering him following several abortive attempts.

Even with Rasputin dead Alexandra continues her misrule. The army is ill supplied, and starving and freezing workers revolt in St. Petersburg in March 1917. Nicholas decides to return to Tsarskoye Selo too late and is forced to abdicate in his train.

The family with Dr. Botkin and attendants leave Tsarskoye Selo and are exiled by Kerensky to Tobolsk in Siberia in August 1917 after Nicholas is told that none of Russia's Allies, who he applied to for political asylum, including Nicholas' own cousin George V of the United Kingdom, will grant them sanctuary because of Nicholas' past abuses of power over his people. They live in a spartan house in the tundra but with decent guards. 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. One of the guards attempts to steal Alexei's gold chain, in the process attacking the child, and Nagorny leaps to his defense. Nagorny is taken away and shot.

The family are given a batch of withheld letters from friends and relatives and, except for Alexei, laugh together as they read through them. In the early hours of 17 July 1918, the Bolsheviks awaken the family and Dr. Botkin, telling them they must be transferred again. As they are waiting in the cellar, Yurovsky and his assistants enter the room and open fire. The final scene shows a burning candle, identical to that in the opening credits.


Credits adapted from the American Film Institute.

The Imperial Family
The Imperial Household
The Statesman
The Revolutionaries
Other characters



Producer 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 on the film Lawrence of Arabia, pressing the perfectionist director in order to get the movie finished on time. Spiegel initially tried to make Nicholas and Alexandra without buying the rights to the book by Robert K. Massie, claiming that the historical account was in public domain but, eventually, Spiegel purchased the rights and hired writer James Goldman to adapt Massie's book as a screenplay.

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.


Spiegel turned to former collaborators John Box for production design, and cinematographer Freddie Young (Lawrence of Arabia) to give the production the epic touch he felt it needed. Principal photography took place in Spain and Yugoslavia.

Spiegel had to work with stricter budget constraints from Columbia Studios than before. He had wanted Peter O'Toole as Rasputin and Vanessa Redgrave as Alexandra but was constrained. Notable actors such as Laurence Olivier, Irene Worth, Michael Redgrave and Jack Hawkins appeared in the film, but actor Rex Harrison turned down a supporting role as too small.

Tom Baker, a member of the Royal National Theatre, was recommended for the role of Rasputin by Laurence Olivier, then also director of the company.[6]


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.[7]

Halliwell's Film and Video Guide described Nicholas and Alexandra as an "inflated epic of occasional interest, mainly for its sets" and "generally heavy going", awarding it one star from a possible four.[8] In 2013, Alex von Tunzelmann wrote for The Guardian, "Nicholas and Alexandra boasts terrific performances and gorgeous production design, but it's bloated and unwieldy. There is more history here than the film-makers know what to do with."[9] For Radio Times, Tom Hutchinson awarded the film three stars out of five, describing it as a "sumptuous, if overlong, epic" which "shows the stretchmarks of too much padding" and "overwhelms us with its detail, though Tom Baker is a lot of fun as the leering mystic Rasputin".[10] Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic described Nicholas and Alexandra as 'flabby'.[11]

Nicholas and Alexandra was recognised by the National Board of Review as one of the Top 10 Films of 1972.[12]

The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 67% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 15 reviews, with an average rating of 6.20/10. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times wrote: "If the movie isn't exactly stirring, however, it is undeniably interesting, especially after the intermission."

Historical accuracy[edit]

There is at least one anachronism; Peter Stolypin had been assassinated in 1911, two years before the Romanov dynasty tercentenary in which he is portrayed as being alive before being assassinated.[13]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Academy Awards[edit]

At the 44th Academy Awards (1972), Nicholas and Alexandra won two awards of six nominations:[14]

BAFTA Awards[edit]

At the 25th British Academy Film Awards (1972), Nicholas and Alexandra received three nominations:[15]

Golden Globe Awards[edit]

At the 29th Golden Globe Awards (1972), Nicholas and Alexandra received three nominations:[16]

Grammy Awards[edit]

At the 15th Annual Grammy Awards (1973), Richard Rodney Bennett was nominated for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or a Television Special.

Home media[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 release was on 27 July 1999 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 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 previous VHS tapes.

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 makeup, costume designs and actresses playing the Tsar's daughters in the film. It also contained the original theatrical trailer as well as an isolated music score. The latter was presented in stereo even though the sound on the Blu-ray was presented in mono. The Blu-ray release was limited to only 3,000 copies. This film is also available for sale or rent as a video online download through both Amazon and Apple's iTunes Store, with Amazon's online file containing the six more minutes of scenes and dialogue that Apple's iTunes file doesn't.[17]


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)


  1. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ a b "NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA (A)". British Board of Film Classification. 19 October 1971. Retrieved 22 February 2016.
  3. ^ Nicholas and Alexandra, Notes. TCM. Retrieved May 20, 2018.
  4. ^ "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976, pg 44.
  5. ^ "NY Times: Nicholas and Alexandra". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2009. Archived from the original on 5 March 2009. Retrieved 28 December 2008.
  6. ^ Jeffery, Morgan (20 January 2014). "Tom Baker turns 80: Doctor Who legend's best screen moments". Digital Spy. Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  7. ^ Kirgo, Julie "Nicholas and Alexandra" booklet, Twilight Time, 2013
  8. ^ Leslie Halliwell (1997). John Walker (ed.). Halliwell's Film and Video Guide. Collins. p. 550. ISBN 978-0002559324.
  9. ^ von Tunzelmann, Alex (14 June 2013). "Nicholas and Alexandra: mashing up history can't make this pair lovable". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  10. ^ Hutchinson, Tom. "Nicholas and Alexandra". Radio Times. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  11. ^ Kauffmann, Stanley (1974). Living Images Film Comment and Criticism. Harper & Row Publishers. p. 245.
  12. ^ "National Board of Review".
  13. ^ Quotes from General Alexander Spiridovitch, "Murder of Prime Minister Stolypin in Kiev 1911" (1929) translated by Rob Moshein
  14. ^ "1971 – Nicholas and Alexandra – Academy Award Best Picture Winners".
  15. ^ "Film in 1972 | BAFTA Awards".
  16. ^ "Box Office Prophets Film Awards Database: Nicholas and Alexandra".
  17. ^ "Screen Archives Entertainment".

External links[edit]