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Nicholas and Alexandra

original movie poster
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
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) November 29, 1971 (1971-11-29)
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 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 Lenin (Michael Bryant), Stalin (James Hazeldine), and 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 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 wracked with guilt. She is obsessed with the thought that Rasputin can stop the bleeding attacks when they occur.

The Tercenteniary 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 order 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 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 one 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.

Nicholas, Alexandra and Alexei, moments before their execution

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 then 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 sober and 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, 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 arm 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 have been cited as being given creative license, as not being entirely factual.

  • Stolypin's assassination is portrayed accurately, but actually took place in 1911. Stolypin is shown as being present at the Tercentenary, which was not until 1913.
  • The party at which Rasputin is poisoned is disputed, partly because of the uncertainty on the part of historians over what really happened that night. The scene is thus based on the legend of Rasputin's murder, as crafted by Yussupov over many tellings. Rasputin's death is portrayed in that he still lived after the poisoning and numerous gunshot wounds. The scene is also made to look as if Rasputin's murder was spur-of-the-moment from an opium high, when the three conspirators involved, Yussopov, Dmitiri, and their butler, recont that it had been intentional and thought out to murder Rasputin, albeit a poorly-planned one.
  • It's portrayed that the dynasty is unpopular because the Tsarina Alexandra is German. In reality, the House of Romanov ceased to be prominently Russian in 1730, following the death of Peter II. The Hollstein-Gottorp-Romanov lineage that succeeded it were part German, so the Tsarina's heritage by this time was for the most part, immaterial. The scenes of native Russians hating the Tsarina due to her German nationality on account of the fact Russia and Germany were at war during World War One, however, was rather accurate, and did serve to damage the dynasty's image.
  • When the Romanovs are executed, not a word is spoken to them prior to their death. Most historical accounts indicate that an execution order was read to them beforehand.
  • The Romanov family (formed by the Tsar, his wife and their five children) were 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 "exist" in the film.
  • The scene with Tatiana exposing herself to a Bolshevik soldier never occurred.
  • Alexander Kerensky informed Nicholas that England would not accept him and the Royal Family as refugees. Britain was actually ready to accept the Romanovs, though with some reluctance. 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. MI6 had proposed an idea of a covert extraction of the Tsar and his family, but all died before such a mission could be sanctioned.


External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Nicholas and Alexandra is a 1971 drama, directed by Franklin Schaffner, about the rule and family life of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Imperial Russia, and the eventual rise of the Soviet Union.

The man who lost an empire because he could not say no to his wife


Tsar Nicholas II

  • The Windsors have a parliament. Our British cousins gave their rights away; so did the Hapsburgs, and the Hohenzollerns, too. The Romanovs will not. What I was given, I will give my son.
  • Stolypin is a good man. They always kill the good ones... I cannot find a match. Does anyone have a match?... It happened with my grandfather, too. He helped the serfs; he freed them. So how did the peasants express their gratitude? They threw a bomb at him. Damn those revolutionaries. You try to help them by giving them what they want, and what do you get for it? Bombs, gunshots, assassinations! I want them rooted out. I want something done, do you understand me? I want them paid in kind!
  • You see, sometimes governments do things their people do not like. So the people react in different ways. The British vote. The Americans frequently remind their leaders of the U.S. Constitution. And the Serbs throw bombs. You see, Serbia wants its independence. But Austria will not grant it to them. So the Serbs resort to violence. It has happened in this country too sometimes. Your great-grandfather was killed by a bomb; so was Uncle Sergei. But Serbia is a long way away. Our foreign ministry will write some angry letters to the Serbian leaders, our generals will go on exercise, and everything will be right again. And we do not need have bad dreams about archdukes. All over Europe kings and queens are sleeping safely in their beds, and that is what we are going to do, too.

Prime Minister Witte

  • The people want more schools and health clinics, laws to protect the workers and the right to vote for an elected Duma. They are angry, sir, and they are serious. Imagine, sire, imagine if you would, that you are a factory worker living in Vladivostok or Saint Petersburg. You are really poor. Meals almost never fill your belly. You freeze eight months out of the year. Your children have no school, no doctors. Your country taxes you and sends the men a continent away to die for a piece of land on the Pacific Ocean. Imagine all that you have to deal with. You must give your people a little of what they want. Not everything mind you; just a taste.
  • [Begging the Tsar to stay out of World War One] Don't any of you understand? We are not fighting Napoleon this time! Germany has ten miles of railroad for every one mile of ours and has one hundred factories for every one we have. That gives the Germans a supreme advantage. All Russia has is men, and they will be slaughtered like flies! You could so easily keep Russia out of this war. The only thing you have to do is to walk out the door. Just get up and go home to your wife and children. You would be remembered as the greatest of all the Tsars.
  • None if you will be here when this war ends. Everything we worked to build will be destroyed. There is no question another great war will come. The societies and kingdoms of Europe we knew will crumble, and out of the wreckage madmen and lunatics will come to power. And the world will grow old.

Grigori Rasputin

  • I studied late to be a starets. I was twenty when this vision came. We peasants get them all the time. The Virgin Mary appears to us. She tells us when to sell our sheep when we want to make a profit. She told me to start walking; so I did. I kept walking throughout Europe and I waited for Her to tell me when to stop walking, but she did not. When I got to Greece, I could walk no more: so I resided in a monastery for two years and then proceeded to walk back to Russia again. Sometimes people ask me "What do I need to become a starets?" and I respond "Good feet."

Vladimir Lenin

  • You must understand that you are free to say whatever you like. You must also understand that I am free to shoot you for saying it.

Father Gapon

  • The Tsar is here in Saint Petersburg to bless the troops. He is staying at the Winter Palace. This Sunday, hundreds of us will walk to the palace in a peaceful parade. I will meet him on the balcony and read this: "Your Majesty, we, the working men and women of Saint Petersburg, come to you seeking justice and protection. Only you can hear our grievances. If you do not help us, we will stay here and die, right in this very courtyard."


Petya: My mother spent her whole life here. She was born in this factory, grew up here, took her classes here, played here, got married here. I was born, Father died, I got married here and had children. And now it is all over for her. The other people here just keep on working. Well, I cannot blame them. They have to work to feed their families. Father, I have a confession to make. I want to kill somebody. The other factory workers come visit me some time. They tell me we ought to make bombs, blow things up. Well, I want to fight back for once!
Father Gapon: The only thing violence produces is more violence. They will beat you and throw you in jail. There is a better way. We will go to see the Tsar with our grievances.
Sonya: You know the saying, Father: God is too high and the Tsar is too far away.

[The "Bloody Sunday" massacre has just occurred.]
Tsar Nicholas II: How many dead?
Prime Minister Witte: Sir, we are still counting; but it is estimated to be in the hundreds.
Tsar Nicholas II: Who gave the order to fire upon them?
Prime Minister Witte: Your Majesty, nobody ordered it.
Tsar Nicholas II: You run this government. Somebody had to have ordered something!
Prime Minister Witte: Would you have gone out to meet them?
Tsar Nicholas II: Of course not.
Prime Minister Witte: Would you have given them a Duma? Allowed them to have elections? Had schools and hospitals built for them?
Tsar Nicholas II: How could I?
Prime Minister Witte: Then why bother to inform you about this? You would not have done anything!

Empress Dowager Marie: I have come to congratulate you, Nicky.
Tsar Nicholas II: What for, Mama?
Empress Dowager Marie: For finding, in all of Russia's countless cretins, idiots and incompetents, the men least qualified to run your government!

Empress Dowager Marie: You have to stop being out here on the front lines and get back to Tsarskoe Selo, where you belong! Rasputin is in Saint Petersburg, running it all into the ground! If you do not act now, we will be ruined and madmen will come!
Tsar Nicholas II: What should I do?
Empress Dowager Marie: Hang him! Send him to the gallows! I do not wish ill on any man, but so many Russians are going to die if you do not!
Tsar Nicholas II: I cannot.
Empress Dowager Marie: Then send him to Siberia! Get back home, send Alexandra to Livadia and take charge of everything!
Tsar Nicholas II: Rasputin lives in Siberia. Besides, what am I to do when my son has a hemophilia attack and Sunny needs Rasputin's help?
Empress Dowager Marie: Do you believe that? Do you honestly and seriously believe that? Millions of Russians are going to starve to death and be murdered, and all because you cannot say no to your wife! In that case I ask you, Nicholas, what can you do?
Tsar Nicholas II: Just what I am doing.
Empress Dowager Marie: I wish your father were still alive. He would know what to do!
Tsar Nicholas II: Don't you dare throw him in my face!
Empress Dowager Marie: Why shouldn't I? He would have burned Vienna down, bombarded the Germans, hung the rebels, shot the strikers, anything to give Russia peace! And he would certainly know what to do about Rasputin! Your father knew how to be a Tsar!

[The tsar is teaching gardening to his children.]
Tsar Nicholas II: In a few months, these will be turnips.
Grand Duchess Anastasia: [giggling] They are carrots.
Tsarevitch Alexei: And when they grow, will we still be around to eat them?

Tsar Nicholas II: All we do is dream of England. We have been very happy there.
Alexander Kerensky: England will not accept you.
Tsar Nicholas II: Won't accept? King George is my cousin!
Alexander Kerensky: He does not seem to want you, either. He has got his own station to worry about.
Tsar Nicholas II: Yes, I must not make trouble for...
Alexander Kerensky: Neither will the French. They are at war to save liberty. You were an autocrat.
Tsar Nicholas II: Damn it! I am a father with a family! Is there not any way? How about Finland? It is only thirty miles away!
Alexander Kerensky: I would never get you out of Saint Petersburg alive. Are you aware that I am all that stands between you and the block? You will be safe under my administration, you have my promise on that. There is blood enough on everybody's hands; I will not have yours on mine. A fine mess Russia in in. Treasury is empty. The Radicals want this, the Socialists want that, the Kadets want the other thing. The Bolsheviks want this, the Mensheviks want that. I could not throw them in jail even if I wanted to! You had power but no laws; I have laws but no power.
Tsar Nicholas II: I wish I could help.
Alexander Kerensky: You had your chances. I sure hope I get mine.

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