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Grand Tale on an Epic Scale,
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This review is from: Nicholas And Alexandra [DVD]  (DVD)
I was six when this film first came out. I'm not sure if I saw it at the cinema or on the TV a few years later, but it lodged a memory in my head and probably introduced to me for the first time - and in vivid form - a love of Russian history. So it was good to revisit the film on DVD.
`Nicholas and Alexandra' came after the sweeping epic of David Lean's Dr Zhivago (1965). It was a time when the giant tales of history were popular at the box office, whether it was Caesar and Cleopatra or Becket and Henry II, but Russian history, more than any other (apart perhaps from Chinese), seems to naturally demand a grand stage for its tales, a stage as metaphorically large as the country itself.
This 180-minute film from 1971 allows for plenty of detail. (There is a three-minute intermission as the troops march off to war in 1914.) Presented in widescreen, and based on the book by Robert Massie, it tells the story of the last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia from the time of the birth of their son Alexei in 1904. It ends with their deaths in 1918, the last hour of the film following the Tsar's abdication.
Its historical veracity - at least in outline - is made manifest by only a short list of inaccuracies posted on the Internet Movie Database website. Ultimately it takes no sides: whilst showing Nicholas's humanity, it also makes plain his arrogant disdain for the condition of his people.
The film comes with high production values and is beautifully shot on a grand scale. I was never bored watching this film. Michael Jayston and Janet Suzman are excellent in the main roles and are very natural in their intimacy. There is a fine supporting cast, including Tom Baker as Rasputin. There are many names down the cast list that would later find greater fame, such as, Brian Cox, Ian Holm, Diana Quick, Timothy West, and John Wood.
For sure it's not all royal pomp. After all, the film is half-concerned with the intimate family relations of the Romanovs. We see also the seamier side of early-twentieth-century Russian economic life, but these are, alas, token scenes to explain the origins of the revolution and are thus a little contrived and idealised. But if I had to change one thing it would be to cut before the final shots are fired: I think this would have had more of an impact.
The disc, alas, comes with no extras. It would have been nice to have known where many of the scenes were shot.