Nicholas and Alexandra is a 1971 Epic Movie directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. It is a Biopic of the last Russian tsar, Nicholas II, and his wife Alexandra, dramatizing their lives from 1904 to 1918, as their world collapses around them, they are overthrown, and they are eventually murdered by the Bolsheviks. The film shows the personal side of Nicholas and Alexandra, their loving and affectionate relationships with each other and their children, while also portraying their incompetence as rulers and their many mistakes that led to their destruction. Other scenes follow Kerensky, who struggles to establish a democratic government in Russia following the overthrow of the Romanovs, and Lenin, who rises from obscure rabble-rouser to the first ruler of the Soviet Union.
This film is notable for an impressive All-Star Cast. Tom Baker, best known for being the most iconic incarnation of Doctor Who, has a memorable supporting role as Rasputin, which earned him a Global Globe nomination. Laurence Olivier also makes the most of limited screen time as Count Witte, Nicholas's one intelligent adviser. Michael Redgrave plays Foreign Minister Sazonov. A startlingly young Brian Cox plays Leon Trotsky, and Ian Holm plays a Red officer who takes charge of the Romanovs for a while.
- Alas, Poor Villain: Nicholas II was definitely a terrible leader who hurt his people...but being brutally and violently executed along with his wife and innocent children is not a good way to go.
- And There Was Much Rejoicing: Deconstructed. Everyone in the Duma cheers when Rasputin is shot, except for Kerensky, who points out that Russia's problems go beyond what killing one crazy monk can solve.
- Anything That Moves: Rasputin, as was reportedly true in Real Life. Rasputin is traveling the countryside on horseback, when he sees some pretty peasant girls baling hay. Cut to Rasputin in the hay cart, naked with the girls.
- Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: When a Red guard peeks in the family's bedroom in Ekaterinburg, an angry Tatiana says "What do you want? Do you want to see me?", and opens her robe. After the guard leaves, a hysterical Tatiana sobs that she almost invited him in—she's 21, she's pretty, and no other man has ever looked at her before.
- Artistic License History:
- Stolypin wasn't assassinated in 1913 during the tricentennial, but in 1911. Also, he was seated in a high balcony not far from where the Royal Family was sitting, not in the general audience. Nicholas later said that Stolypin managed to turn to him and make the sign of the cross before succumbing to the gunshot wound.
- The film portrays Alexander Kerensky as the leader of the Provisional Government from the outset, when in reality, he wouldn't become its head until several more months after the February Revolution.
- Rasputin was introduced to the titular couple by a pair of princesses nicknamed "The Crow Sisters", not by Grand Duke Nicholas. The build-up to his introduction—a previous charlatan named "Doctor" Phillipe, whose "help", Alexandra believed, had allowed her to give birth to Alexei, had died, but not before predicting that another would take his place—is also absent.
- The film gives no explanation as to why Rasputin is supposedly able to "heal" Alexei. By the time the film came out, testimony from eyewitnesses (including the French tutor, Pierre Gilliard) led historians to conclude that the doctors were giving Alexei aspirin—the most common treatment for hemophilia at the time, but we now know is actually the worst medicine you can give a hemophiliac—and Rasputin's insistence that they stay away from the boy while he was bedridden kept the symptoms from getting worse because it kept them from giving him the pill.
- The build-up to Rasputin's death is also changed: Yusupov lured him to his mansion by claiming that his wife had a headache that needed curing, not by promising him a night of getting high on opium.
- For most of Alexei's life, his chief caretaker was another sailor named Alexei Derevenko, the son of Nicholas's physician, with Klementy Nagorny as his assistant. However, Derevenko supported the Revolution and had left the Imperial Family by the time they were imprisoned at Ekaterinburg.
- The execution of the Romanovs took several minutes in real life (some reports say up to 20), due to several of the gunmen being drunk and the room quickly filling up with gunsmoke, making it hard to aim. They also read off a death warrant before opening fire, whereas in the film they just start shooting without a word. And the two chairs were not in the room when the family entered, either; Alexandra asked for some and Yurovsky brought them in.
- As You Know: The film explains who Witte is in an early scene by having Nicholas tell his wife "He's a brilliant prime minster."
- Big "SHUT UP!": Kerensky to Alexandra after she complains about wanting her luxuries with her as they're about to go on a train to Siberia in summer 1917 just months after Nicholas was forced to abdicate.Frau Romanov, you have kept your head, you should be grateful.
- Bookends: A closeup of a single candle is the first and last shot in the film.
- The Cassandra: Count Witte, the Only Sane Man in Nicholas's government, begs the tsar to get out of an unnecessary war against Japan before it's too late. Nicholas refuses and Russia suffers a humiliating defeat by them in 1905 that nearly gets him overthrown. Nine years later, Witte begs Nicholas not to go to war (the first "World" one) in 1914, explaining in detail all the horrific consequences that will follow. Again, Nicholas doesn't listen.
- Catapult Nightmare: Alexei has one about the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie, letting the audience know that World War I is about to start.
- The Chessmaster: Lenin, who manages to talk the Germans into smuggling him out of Switzerland and through their country to Sweden, so he can then go to Russia and lead a revolution that will take Russia out of the war, leaving Germany free to send more troops to the western front.
- Cigarette of Anxiety: Nicholas tries to light one up after Stolypin is shot, but can't find a light. Similarly, at the end of the movie the Ekaterinburg commissar charged with the murder of the royal family is chain-smoking in obvious distress.
- Costume Porn: Won an Academy Award for costume design. Early 20th-century Russia is certainly portrayed handsomely.
- Depraved Homosexual: Yusupov and the other princes that conspire to murder Rasputin are portrayed as this, with giggling, effiminate mannerisms. One of them dresses up as a woman and dances for the party the night Rasputin is murdered.
- Dirty Commies: The original ones, mind you. They kill the tsar and his family.
- Dirty Coward: The Bolshevik who attacks Alexei. He waits for everyone to leave, then manhandles the boy to get his necklace. When Nagorny comes in and starts roughing him up, he hides behind the other Bolsheviks like the pathetic little worm that he is.
- Downer Ending: The entire royal family is murdered by the Bolsheviks.
- Dramatic Irony: Nicholas, in a cheerful mood after the family has finally received long-withheld mail, says "Lord, it's good to be alive!". This is after the audience has already learned that the entire family is to be murdered that night.
- Driven to Suicide: A tsarist officer in World War I surveys his men, a group of young boys and wrinkled grandpas, some of whom are wielding scythes instead of rifles. He sends them off to face the better armed Germans, then lies down and shoots himself, reflecting how badly the war is going for Russia by this point and knowing that he just sent helpless men and boys to their dooms.
- Easy Logistics: Averted. Supplying soldiers across the vast Russian Empire (During the Russo-Japanese War) is a monumental challenge, as Grand Duke Nicholas frustratingly explains to his nephew, the tsar.Grand Duke Nicholas: Well Nicky, let me put it this way. (Presents a bullet) This is a bullet, made in Saint Petersburg. I send it off to war. How does it get there? On a single spur of railroad track four thousand miles long. And in the middle, no track at all. God help us, it spends three days packed on sleds. This works the same way for every pair of boots, first aid kit, or pound of tea we send. Get out now, Nicky. While there is time.
- Count Witte points out just before Germany declares World War I against Russia how Russia is too far behind Germany in technology to fight an industrial scale world war against it, but is ignored.
- End of an Age: How Count Witte predicts the eventual downfall of tsarist Russia.Count Witte just after World War I is declared: None of you will be here when this war ends. Everything we fought for will be lost, everything we've loved will be broken. The victors will be as cursed as the defeated. The world will grow old, and men will wander about, lost in the ruins, and go mad. Tradition, restraint, virtue, they all go. I'm not mourning for myself, but for the people who will come after me, they will live without hope. And all they will have will be guilt, revenge, and terror. And the world will be full of fanatics and trivial fools.
- Enfante Terrible: Zig-zagged with Alexei. He says he would like to kill the Communist guards, and, earlier, ordered a frantic minister to leave his grief-stricken mother in peace the morning after Rasputin's death rather than have her pay attention to the various crises going on in Russia. He also seemed to deliberately injure himself simply to get people's attention or in a suicide attempt to internally bleed himself to death as a hemophiliac. This is balanced out somewhat by his genuine friendship with Nagorny and, in one scene, his attempt to defend his sisters' honors by trying to cover up/destroy a crude drawing of one of them made by a Jerkass soldier.
- Face Death with Dignity: When the Bolsheviks direct their guns at the royal family, they either scream, close their eyes, huddle together, make an Orthodox sign of the cross or a combination of the three—except for Anastasia, who just glares at her killers right before they start shooting.
- Fatal Flaw:
- The czar had several.
- Horrible Judge of Character: Nicholas trusts the wrong kinds of people with running his country, and believes against all evidence, logic and reason that Rasputin is a holy man who works miracles and keeps his hemophiliac son alive. After Nicholas is overthrown and made a prisoner of the Bolsheviks, he even thinks the Communist guards are there to help them, when even Alexei knows all along that they are there to kill them.
- Henpecked Husband: He's married to a demanding, pampered princess with zero interest in the country, and ends up more interested in her than in governing Russia.
- Fish out of Temporal Water: He was simply a man unfit for the tumult and revolutions of the early 20th century. When the "winds of change" were blowing his way, he seems eager to stop them. In fact, with his family values and gentle, middle-class demeanor it seems like he would have been much better as a figurehead head of state like many contemporary monarchs than as an old-school absolute monarch.
- Kerensky's own misguided patriotism drives him to continue a war that no one wants to fight anymore. This leads to the collapse of his government.
- The czar had several.
- Faux Affably Evil: Yurovsky is nothing but pleasant and polite to Nicholas and his family even while planning their executions. His reaction to the Bolshevik's final decision to execute the Czar and his entire family is to express his disappointment that it took so long to decide this and if it's the whole family that needs to be executed!
- Foil: Dowager Empress Marie to Alexandra, as they pretty much were in real life. Marie is a witty, socially adept, astute woman who understands her own limits when it comes to governing and believes that high-ranking positions should go only to those most qualified for them, even if you don't like them on a personal level. Alexandra is a cold, shy, and naive fool who lets a smelly fake monk influence her decision-making, doles out high ranking jobs to incompetents because said "monk" likes them, and repeatedly (and disastrously) meddles in affairs that she doesn't understand.
- Foregone Conclusion: Think about Russian history for 3 seconds, and you'll know that the Bolsheviks will win.
- The Good Chancellor: Count Witte and Stolypin, who both try to influence Nicholas II to reform, and both fail. Witte is ignored while Stolypin is assassinated.
- Good Shepherd: Father Gapon, which makes his witnessing the Bloody Sunday massacre all the more tragic. In Real Life, he joined Lenin's Socialist Revolutionary Party, but was murdered after he was accused of being a tsarist spy.
- Grey-and-Gray Morality: Nicholas is an utterly incompetent ruler who refuses to give his people the reforms they want. Alexandra lets a smelly fake monk run the country. Kerensky is well-intentioned but refuses to give Russia the peace that the people cry out for. The Bolsheviks for their parts are murderers, but they do have their own ideals, and they're overthrowing a system that has sent seven million Russians to their deaths in World War I. The diplomats (Allied ambassadors) have little concern for the Russian people, but their countries are involved in a terrible war. The only really innocent characters are Nicholas and Alexandra's five children.
- Happily Married: The titular couple. This becomes a problem since Nicholas trusts Alexandra so much that he almost always listens to her terrible advice with hardly any protest.
- HeelFace Door-Slam: Nicholas comes to regret his failures as a leader...but by then, he hasn't got the power to correct his mistakes, and is killed along with his family.
- HeelFace Turn: The Imperial Guards and the Cossacks abandon the tsar and join the revolution midway through the second act. In one notable scene, a group of Cossacks on horseback confront a mob of hungry peasants who have broken into a bakery and are trying to tear open the bags of grain. The guards draw their swords, the leader advances, raises his sword, and... cuts a bag open for the peasants, with the rest of the guards quickly following suit.
- Heel Realization: After all his despotic abuses, failures, and even being deposed by his own people, it's only after he finds out that even his own wartime allies won't accept him as an exile that Nicholas finds out just how bad he's really been.Alexander Kerensky (In a summer 1917 meeting with the then-newly deposed Nicholas): England won't accept you.Nicholas: Won't accept? King George is my cousin.Alexander Kerensky: He [George V] doesn't seem to want you either. He has to think of his own position. Nor will the French. None of our allies want to risk it. They are at war to save democracy and you were a tyrant.
- Heroic BSoD: Father Gapon, after the Bloody Sunday massacre.Father Gapon: He didn't come. He never came... Nicholas the Murderer. The bloody, bloody murderer.
- Historical Villain Downgrade/Historical Villain Upgrade/Historical Hero Upgrade: The movie plays around with its depictions of historical figures.
- Nicholas' incompetence and the love he had for his family are played up. His accomplishments, while not being able to stop the revolution did lead to some improvements in Russian lives, are not touched upon, nor is his blatant racism and anti-Semitism.
- Pyotr Stolypin is portrayed as a reformist. But he also implemented a series of Kangaroo Courts in response to the 1905 revolution that were so notorious for hanging people, the rope nooses used in these executions was nicknamed "Stolypin's neckties".
- Dowager Empress Maria is shown to be a fan of autocracy, to an extent. In real life, she understood that the time of absolute monarchy was over and supported reform, but couldn't force Nicholas to go through with it because Alexandra controlled his ears. It got to the point where she and a circle of supporters hatched a plot to depose Nicholas and place a more liberal-minded (or at least more pragmatic) family member on the throne, but it never went anywhere.
- Holding the Floor: The Russian prime minister says "I have the floor Mr. Kerensky." Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky, who is the Only Sane Man in the Duma later manages to silence the Duma and tells then that Rasputin's death does not solve the problems of Russia's failing government. The army is deserting (i.e. surrendering) by the tens of thousands, the civilians are organizing food and fuel riots, his German wife is still ruling The Empire, and the Tsar is ignoring reality.
- Ill Girl: Ill boy, in the case of Tsarevich Alexei, afflicted with hemophilia. Averted somewhat in the film's version of Alexei, who is not the stereotypical cute but ill little child, but thirsty for bloody revenge against the Reds.
- Inelegant Blubbering: Nicholas breaks down into some very un-emperor-like crying and blubbering when he's reunited with Alexandra after his forced abdication.
- Intermission: In those days three-plus-hour movies would have one in the middle.
- In the Back: How Rasputin gets it, after the poisoned cakes and wine didn't kill him.
- It's All About Me: Alexandra has this bad. Her own fears and needs always take precedence over actually running the country.
- Jerkass with a Heart of Gold: The first set of guards tasked to keep watch on the deposed Romanovs. They're rough, and some of them are rather crude, but they are decent men at heart, especially the commander.
- Jerkass Has a Point:
- When Nicholas is begging for Nagorny's life, he says "No man should have that that power." The commander coldly tells him "You had it." Nicholas is forced to admit that he did, and that he let it destroy him.
- The Dowager Empress Marie is very harsh and critical of her son and daughter-in-law and definitely believes in an autocracy, but one can only think that Nicholas could have avoided a lot of trouble if he listened to her about governing Russia and keeping Alexandra away.
- Kick the Dog: Several examples.
- Bloody Sunday is a major one, with the peasants being the dogs and the royal guards being the kickers (shooters).
- Nicholas's response to Stolypin's murder is extremely harsh. He could have settled for simply executing the killer, but he decides to also unleash the secret police on the peasantry.
- A somewhat nasty guard makes a rather lewd drawing of two of the princesses and shows it to them, then violently stops Alexei from trying to get rid of it. He later feels remorse for it, though.
- Once Nicholas has abdicated, the royal family is essentially rendered harmless, yet the Bolsheviks, after taking them prisoners, take several opportunities to torment them whenever a chance is presented. Examples include separating them from the childrens' French tutor, giving the girls no privacy when they are dressing/undressing, manhandling Alexei—who became crippled from his earlier suicide attempt in Tobolsk—and then killing his bodyguard when the latter tries to defend him, and then finally giving them a brief Hope Spot For the Evulz by giving them all the mail they had previously withheld from them before brutally murdering all of them in a cellar. Even Yurovsky feels that witholding their mail might've been just too plain cruel.
- Man on Fire: Seen when a leftist printing press goes up in flames.
- Name and Name: After the last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Grand Duke Nicholas introduces Rasputin to Alexandra, much to his later regret.
- Oh, Crap!: At one point in February 1917, as smoke rises and gunfire clatters in Petrograd, Alexandra looks out her palace balcony and is reassured to see an army squadron still there, guarding the place. A soldier even salutes. Her Oh, Crap! moment comes a couple of scenes later, when she looks back out and sees the guards gone. (This happened; the palace guards did in fact join the mutineers that were taking over the city.)
- Only Sane Man: Count Witte, who recognizes the need for reform and the recklessness of going to the first World War in 1914—see The Cassandra above. Kerensky is almost this, save for his fatal error of deciding to keep Russia in the unwinnable war. Alexei is this among the family, who sadly understands that they may not be alive in the near future.
- Opera Gloves: The Romanov daughters wear them at the opera, as you might expect princesses to do.
- Rasputinian Death: The Trope Maker. Later historical research has shown that Yusupov's story was nonsense—Rasputin's death was perfectly ordinary, shot three times with the last a Boom, Headshot!, no cakes and poison—but at the time the movie was made this was believed to be how Rasputin really died.Rasputin: I've been poisoned... you tried to kill me... you all have. You silly fools... I thought I could trust you... you silly fools... you can't even KILL properly. You're too small to destroy me.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Count Witte gives a pretty good one to Nicholas after the tsar demands an explanation for the Bloody Sunday massacre (1905).Nicholas: Why wasn't I told they were marching?
Count Witte: Would you have met them?
Nicholas: How could I?
Count Witte: Would you have given them a Duma?
Nicholas: Of course not!
Count Witte: Elections? Schools?
Count Witte: THEN WHY BOTHER TO INFORM YOU? YOU WOULDN'T HAVE DONE ANYTHING.
Maria Fedorova: I wish your father were alive.
- Nicholas's mother the Dowager Empress Maria Fedorova lets him have it for staffing his government with stooges, failing to take action against the revolutionaries, and hiding out at military headquarters in Mogilev.
Nicholas: Don't throw him at me.
Maria Fedorova: He knew how to be a Tsar. He'd have burned Vienna down, stamped on the Germans and shot the strikers, ANYTHING to give Russia peace. And HE'D certainly have known how to deal with Rasputin.
Alexander Kerensky: A fine mess Russia's in. The Treasury is empty. The Radicals want this, the Socialists want that, the cadets want something else. The Bolsheviks want this, the Mensheviks want that. I couldn't throw them in jail even if I wanted to! You had power but no laws; I have laws but no power.Nicholas: I wish I could help.Alexander Kerensky: You had your chances. I wish I had mine.
- Kerensky gives one to Nicholas in the summer of 1917, months after his abdication, dressing him down by telling him that none of Russia's allies, ex. Britain whose leader was none other than Nicholas' own cousin, King George V, as well as France, the United States or any of Russia's other World War I allies, will offer the deposed royal family shelter because of Nicholas' past tyrannical abuses and also for the mess that he left behind.
Tsar Nicholas II: All my life. My whole life I've done what you want. I gave mother up. You hated her, so we don't see her anymore. I gave my friends up. Do you know I haven't a single friend ? I've got my family. Four girls, one sick boy...and you. I ask myself, before I eat, sleep, or change my clothes, is this what Sunny wants ? And it never is. There's always more! Sweet JESUS how much do you want of me?
- Nicholas FINALLY gives one to Alexandra (he probably never said anything like this to her in real life, but it addresses a deeply frustrating issue...and it's very satisfying)
- The answer: whatever will keep Alexandra from freaking out and keep Rasputin happy.
- Rebel Leader: V.I. Ulyanov topples the Provisional Government.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The Bolsheviks. They'll kill the czar and his family. Lenin makes this intention clear in an early scene.Trotsky: I'll never understand you. You hate anyone who's not your kind of Bolshevik more than you hate the Tsar.Martov: No wonder they call you Robespierre. Everyone's got to think like you, or they're out!Trotsky: He thinks freedom is something you write on a wall, you don't actually practice it.Vladimir Lenin: That's not true. Of course, I agree you're free to say what you like. And you must agree I'm free to shoot you for saying it.
- Royal "We": Nicholas tends to use these on formal occasions, like when signing his abdication letter.
- Ruling Couple: Nicholas and Alexandra, and they are really terrible at it.
- Second-Face Smoke: The German official plotting to send Lenin to Russia, holding a cigarette in his hand, is talking to Lenin himself. He notes how Lenin doesn't smoke and won't let his associates smoke. Then the German takes a drag on his cigarette and blows the smoke in Lenin's face.
- Sinister Minister: Rasputin comes off as this, even though he doesn't do anything overtly evil.
- Smart People Play Chess: There's a chessboard in Lenin's apartment. Truth in Television, as Lenin was an enthusiastic chess player.
- Spiritual Successor: To Doctor Zhivago, a Russian-set epic about the same historical period, with the same producer, cinematographer, and production designer.
- Time Skip: The timing is a little vague, especially since Stolypin is shown observing the Romanov tercentenary in 1913 when he was really shot in 1911, but several years obviously pass between Alexei's birth/infancy and Alexei as a child of school age.
- Tragic Mistake: Nicholas's decision to go to war in 1914, despite Count Witte's pleas, is the trigger for all the disasters that follow.
- Undying Loyalty: Nagorny, the sailor tasked with being Alexei's full-time caretaker, who sticks with the Romanovs until he's shot at Ekaterinburg for defending Alexei from a thief. (Not shown is a second sailor caretaker, Andrei Derevenko, who went over to the Bolsheviks.) Also Dr. Botkin, who dies along with the family in the basement room of the Ipatiev House.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: Although there doesn't appear to be any truth to the rumors of a sexual relationship between Rasputin and Alexandra, the film does show an unspoken attraction between them. Most obvious in the scene where a long Held Gaze between the two ends with Alexandra kissing the large, quite phallic crucifix which hangs by a string from Rasputin's neck.
- Villain Protagonist: Downplayed with Nicholas. He is portrayed as a loving father and a personally kind man. But he is also as a man who refuses to consider the needs of his people, seeks to hold onto his absolute power at all costs, and has little problem oppressing his subjects with the secret police.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Nicholas lives in his father's shadow. Truth in Television, as Alexander III had no confidence in his heir and never bothered to teach him how to be a proper ruler.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Count Witte is absent in the second half of the movie. Justified, as the real Witte died of a brain tumor in 1915.
- While Rome Burns: Yusupov sees the coming disaster more than most in the tsarist establishment.Yusupov: You politicians think you're in control, but you'll be swept away like the rest of us. Rome, Athens, Petersburg, you can't stop it. Meanwhile, I'll enjoy myself. I am throwing a little soiree on Thursday, why not come? I cannot stop the revolution, but until it comes, let us have some fun. Even if it only for a few more days.
- Young Future Famous People: Stalin pops up at a 1904 Bolshevik congress as a gregarious young man and follower of Lenin.