An intelligent historical drama, with a literate screenplay (writers include Edward Bond), stunning camerawork and the cream of 1960s British acting in their droves......Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Michael Bryant, Vivian Pickles, Alan Webb, Ian Holm, John Wood, Jack Hawkins, John McEnery, Timothy West, Eric Porter......The list is endless, and that's just the supporting players.
Michael Jayston gives the performance of his screen career as the weak, misguided Tsar who'd have much rather been a gentleman farmer and family man. Quite why this fine, fine actor never became a huge star I'll never understand. The scene after he has abdicated and breaks down like a frightened child is a masterpiece of acting.
Tom Baker, whose big break this should have been, plays the Siberian mystic, healer and libertine, Grigory Rasputin. Baker had been part of Olivier's National Theatre company at the Old Vic, but it would be a certain long-scarfed time travellerson TV that would make him a household name a few years later.
Rasputin was an enigma, and Baker plays him as such. His murder by decadent princelings is one of this film's great set pieces.
There are many of these, as the film covers the last year's of Imperial Russia, concentrating on the very human story of the Tsar and his family, culminating in the ghastly massacre in Ekaterinburg.
Their story interwoven with that of the Russian people and their woes. Tsar Nicholas may be portrayed sympathetically but he is not exonerated when it comes to who was to blame. A weak man, clinging to what he sees as his divine right to autocratic power, he nevertheless grows in wisdom and self-awareness, but....sadly......too late. It's a fine performance.
Roughly three hours long, "Nicholas and Alexandra" is nevertheless a whistlestop tour of the story, with situations streamlined and characters mere thumbnail sketches, particularly the revolutionaries. The scope and the scenery are enormous. This really is the last of the great historical epics. There would be nothing like this until "Gandhi" over a decade later.
There are a number of very negative reviews of this film here on Amazon, with reviewers describing it as boring and flat. While I can't agree with either of those adjectives, I can concede that certain of the finishing touches....particularly the music....do hark back to those overblown, deadly dull epics of the 1960s. The music is a mistake, too reminiscent of "Doctor Zhivago" without having that score's genius.
Inevitably this 1971 film must be compared unfavourable with Lean's, made only 6 years earlier. "Zhivago" was turned into primarily a great love story, and this film tries to do the same with Nicholas and Alexandra, a couple in early middle age, who still love each other in spite of everything. They simply have been allotted the wrong roles in life.
My one serious reservation about this film is in its portrayal of the Empress Alexandra. Janet Suzman was, and still is, a great actress, one of her generation's finest, but here she is miscast.
Alexandra was NOT English, as one reviewer here claims. She was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, but her father was a minor German royal. Her mother died when she was a child, and Victoria took over her upbringing to a certain extent. The result was that "Sunny" as she was nicknamed spoke English and had English tastes, but she remained a German princess.
That nickname did not suit her in later life. She and Nicholas adored each other but she did not adore being the Empress of Russia, feeling isolated and disliked by the Establishment. She became increasingly neurotic and self-absorbed as well as physically frail. Before the Revolution her children rarely saw her. In the film she is depicted as obsessed with her status and religion, particularly her dependence on Rasputin. This is all true, but what we don't see is her physical incapacitation. As played by Janet Suzman, she is simply too beautiful, too likeable, too loving.
To sum up, this is a fine, intelligent, absorbing epic drama, but also an intimate human one. It has its faults, but compare it with many of the epics that came before it ("Cleopatra") and those made more recently ( "Mary Queen of Scots") it's a minor masterpiece.
This DVD is the complete film, all the minor cuts made over the years now restored. It seems to have been remastered, and the picture is brighter and more colourful than I remember it.
The soundtrack isn't that good......I had to turn the volume up very high.