Nicholas and Alexandra

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)
Starring Michael Jayston,
Janet Suzman
Music by Richard Rodney Bennett
Cinematography Freddie Young
Studio Horizon Pictures
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) December 30, 1971 (1971-12-30)
Running time 189 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Nicholas and Alexandra is a 1971 biographical film which 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, 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 the Tsarevich Alexei in the opulent surroundings of the Imperial Court. The Russo-Japanese War is on and 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 that the Russian people want a representative government, health care, voting and workers' rights, but Nicholas wants to maintain the traditional autocracy left to him by his forefathers. Meanwhile, underground political parties led by Vladimir Lenin (Michael Bryant), Joseph Stalin (James Hazeldine), and Leon Trotsky (Brian Cox) have formed.

Alexei is soon diagnosed with hemophilia. The Tsarina Alexandra (Janet Suzman) is frantic. A shy former German princess who is not highly thought of by the Russian royal court, she is isolated, but is befriended by Grigori Rasputin (Tom Baker), a Siberian peasant who describes himself as a religious pilgrim or holy man. He has become a curiosity with some people at court. Later Alexandra calls upon him to help her pray for Alexei, and comes to believe in his healing, life-saving abilities.

In a textile mill, working under ghastly conditions, the people are encouraged by their priest, Father George Gapon (Julian Glover). He leads them, joined by many other peasant workers, in a clearly peaceful procession to the Winter Palace, intending to present a petition to the Tsar. Hundreds of soldiers stand ready in front of the palace; their commanding officer tells them to shoot up in the air, but he falls from his horse, there is a panic, and the soldiers proceed to fire randomly into the crowd. Nicholas has not been at the palace and is horrified when he hears of the massacre, but admits he wouldn't have granted the people's requests. (Bloody Sunday)

Eight years later, on the 300th anniversary of Romanov rule, the family vacations at the Livadia Palace in the Crimea. Alexei (Roderic Noble) is a very lively little boy who is constantly prevented from leading a normal life. A close bond, however, exists between Alexei and his bodyguard/protector, the Russian Naval Sailor Nagorny (John Hallam). Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin (Eric Porter), who succeeded Witte, has commissioned the Imperial Duma and granted some of the people's requests in order to preserve the Russian Empire. Prime Minister Stolypin also presents Nicholas with police reports about Rasputin's dissolute behavior, which is serving to give the Tsar a bad reputation. As a result, the Tsar dismisses Rasputin from the court. Alexandra demands his return. She knows Alexei's hemophilia was inherited from her, and is racked with guilt. She is obsessed with the thought that only Rasputin can stop the bleeding attacks when they occur.

The Tercentenary celebration occurs in a grand fashion with much partying and festivities, but takes a turn for the worse when Prime Minister Stolypin is shot at an opera performance in Kiev. Nicholas retaliates not only by uprooting the conspiracy and executing the killers, but also by closing the Duma and allowing police to terrorize the peasants and burn their homes.

Alexei has a minor fall at the Spala Hunting Lodge, which leads to the worst bleeding attack yet. It is presumed that he will die. The Tsaritsa writes a letter to Rasputin, who soon responds with words of comfort and confidence. Sure enough, the Tsarevich recovers, and Rasputin is allowed to return.

World War I begins with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Germany declares war on Russia immediately after Nicholas has ordered the mobilisation of Russia's forces on the German border. Nicholas decides to command the troops himself in 1915 and leaves for the front, taking over from his much more experienced cousin, Grand Duke Nicholas. This leaves Alexandra in charge at home. Under Rasputin's influence and her own conservative inclinations, she makes unwise decisions. Very few people have been told about Alexei's illness or how Rasputin appears to be helping him, so it looks like the Tsaritsa is losing her mind, or perhaps having an affair with Rasputin. Out on the front lines, Nicholas is visited by his mother the Dowager Empress Maria Foeodorovna (Irene Worth), (who is very outspokenly critical of her son's lack of leadership abilities), who scolds him about not attending to crumbling domestic issues and implores him to eliminate Rasputin (as well as to send Alexandra away to one of the royal palaces out of sight). On a sort of drunken whim, two decadent young princes, Grand Duke Dmitri (Richard Warwick) and Prince Felix Yusupov (Martin Potter), invite Rasputin to an opium party and kill him in December, 1916.

Deprived of her only trusted advisor, Alexandra becomes unable to cope. Workers go on strike everywhere. The army is ill supplied. Starving and freezing, they revolt, and St. Petersburg is overrun with them. Nicholas makes a long return to Tsarskow Selo, but is forced to abdicate in his train at Mogiliev, not only for himself but for Alexei, who is furious when he hears this, and becomes withdrawn, believing that the family will soon perish.

The family (and Dr. Botkin (Timothy West) and Nagorny) are forced to leave the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo by Kerensky and are brought to Siberia in mid-1917, where they live under less grand conditions with rough but decent guards. In late 1917, Russia falls into the hands of the Bolshevik party, the one revolutionary group that nobody took seriously. The Russian Civil War starts very soon afterwards, and the family is transferred to the grim Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg, under harsher conditions, and into the keeping of the cold-blooded and unfeeling Yakov Yurovsky (Alan Webb) (whom Alexei immediately pegs as an evil man). At one point, some of the guards are physically harsh with young Alexei, so Nagorny leaps to his defense and attacks them. Nagorny is taken away and shot, leaving Alexei even more embittered and withdrawn than he was before. In a near-final tragic scene, the family is shown laughing as they read previously withheld letters from friends, relatives and teachers. Only Alexei remains aloof, sensing what is about to happen. The Bolsheviks are frantically deciding what to do as the White Army is on the verge on capturing Ekaterinburg. In the middle of the night of 16/17 July 1918, the Bolsheviks awaken the Romanov family and Dr. Botkin. Told they're being sent to another city, the family and the doctor pack their things and wait in the cellar. Their keeper Yurovsky and his assistants enter the room, as Alexei kisses his father for the last time. They point their guns at the family, causing Olga (Ania Marson) and Tatiana (Lynne Frederick) to scream, Maria (Candace Glendenning) to run into the doctor's arms and Alexandra to cross herself. Then they open fire, and the first bullet goes through Nicholas' hand. The end scene shows the wall covered in blood.


Fact vs. fiction

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 Yussupov. Rasputin is seen surviving the poisoning and numerous gunshot wounds, but there is evidence to suggest, February 2011  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 really never 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 Ekaterinburg that their living conditions became much worse.
  • Only Nicholas, Alexandra and Marie arrived together at the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg; Olga, Alexei, Tatiana and Anastasia arrived later due to Alexei' 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 Tatiana exposing herself to a Bolshevik soldier ever occurred.
  • Alexander Kerensky informed Nicholas in summer 1917 that England 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.

Historical sources

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.


External links

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