Too little of Russian history has been covered by Western cinema, given some of the triumphs and tragedies of that great country. Nicholas and Alexandra is an ambitious attempt to cover the personal lives of the last Tsar and Tsarina against the brooding backdrop of pre-Revolutionary Russia, 1905-1918, and stars a veritable galaxy of seventies British talent.
The film starts with Tsar Nicholas II (Michael Jayston) awaiting the birth of his latest child, which turns out to be the son (or Tsarevitch) that he has been longing for. This good news is offset, however, by news of impending disaster from the front as the Imperial Russian Army struggles to hold Port Arthur against the Japanese. Nicholas's avuncular (Harry Andrews) advises him to withdraw and settle for terms, but the Tsar will not hear of it: he is determined to leave an enlarged empire for his son. Similarly, when Cossacks fire on a crowd of peaceful protesters led by a priest and kill hundreds, Prime Minister Stolypin urges Nicholas to make reforms, only to be told that "my people love me". But in fact Nicholas and Alexandra live lives almost completely insulated from their people. The German-born Alexandra is neurotic, highly-strung and wanting only a cocooned family life. Alternately demanding and weak-willed, she falls easily to the persuasive Rasputin and tries to foist her (and Rasputin's) political views on her husband. Nicholas is a decent man but somewhat weak, living in a dream world where the simple peasants love him and he can hand on a strong and traditional Russia to the Tsarevich Alexei. In fact neither of them are prepared for the whirlwind of social, political and military turmoil that sweeps in on the new century, and the tragedy of the First World War and the Revolution is inevitable, especially when the Romanovs are faced by the ruthlessness of Lenin, ironically an autocrat himself who will tolerate no dissent from his own Bolsheviks.
This is an excellent production, with historical authenticity, a good script and fine acting. Jayston is excellent as the family man Nicholas, as is Suzmann as his petulant and somewhat self-pitying wife. Tom Baker, with his bulging eyes, was born to play the part of Rasputin, and we'll forgive the false beard: hamming it up somehow seems forgiveable in this case. Harry Andrews gives stalwart support as the bluff avuncular Grand Duke Michael, as does Eric Porter as the luckless Stolypin, a Gorbachev of his day who was struck down by assassins before he could avert the tide of disaster. The Bolsheviks too are well played, especially Michael Bryant as Lenin, here shown as a man of workaday efficiency with an all-too-easy potential for terror. "Murder... terror... arson.... I'll do anything to get us into power," he tells Trotsky, and these words are echoed towards the end of the film by a sweating, nervous member of the Urals Soviet who has come to oversee the murder of the captive Romanovs.
Some twenty years or so after this film was made, the remains of the Romanovs were in fact disinterred from the cellar in Siberia and finally laid to rest, not long after Lenin's creation had also passed away. With the last decade or so of change that has swept Russia, this film bears seeing again.
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