Nicholas and Alexandra

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Nicholas and Alexandra
Original theatrical release poster
Directed byFranklin J. Schaffner
Screenplay byJames Goldman
Based onNicholas and Alexandra
1967 book
by Robert K. Massie
Produced bySam Spiegel
CinematographyFreddie Young
Edited byErnest Walter
Music byRichard Rodney Bennett
Distributed byColumbia-Warner Distributors[1]
Release dates
29 November 1971 (Royal Command Performance)
  • 13 December 1971 (1971-12-13)
Running time
188 minutes[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget~$9 million[2]
Box office$7 million (rentals)[3]

Nicholas and Alexandra is a 1971 British epic historical drama film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, from a screenplay by James Goldman and Edward Bond based on Robert K. Massie's 1967 book of the same name. It tells the story of the last ruling Russian monarch, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (Michael Jayston), and his wife, Tsarina Alexandra (Janet Suzman), from 1904 until their deaths in 1918. The ensemble cast includes Tom Baker as Grigori Rasputin, Laurence Olivier as Sergei Witte, Brian Cox as Leon Trotsky, Ian Holm as Vasily Yakovlev, and Vivian Pickles as Nadezhda Krupskaya.

The film was theatrically released on 13 December 1971 by Columbia Pictures to mixed reviews and commercial failure, grossing $7 million on a $9 million budget. Regardless, the film received six nominations at the 44th Academy Awards, including for Best Picture and Best Actress (Suzman), and won two: Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.[4]


In 1904, Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna, wife of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, gives birth to their fifth child and first son, Alexei. Despite pleas from Grand Duke Nicholas and Count Sergei Witte, Nicholas refuses to end the Russo-Japanese War or accept demands for a constitutional monarchy, believing that doing either will make him look weak. The following year, Alexandra meets Grigori Rasputin, a self-proclaimed holy man, at a gala celebrating the birthday of Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna. She later turns to Rasputin for spiritual guidance after court physician Dr. Eugene Botkin diagnoses Alexei with haemophilia.

In response to increasing public unrest, Orthodox priest Father Georgy Gapon leads a procession of workers to the Winter Palace, hoping to present Nicholas with a petition calling for political representation. Armed soldiers open fire on the approaching crowd, killing hundreds. The events of Bloody Sunday, coupled with the humiliating defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, prompt Nicholas to create the Duma.

Eight years later, Nicholas meets with Pyotr Stolypin, Witte's successor, while holidaying at the Livadia Palace with his family. Stolypin presents police reports about Rasputin's dissolute behavior, which is damaging the Tsar's reputation; Nicholas dismisses Rasputin from the court. Alexandra demands his return, as she believes only Rasputin can stop Alexei's bleeding attacks, but Nicholas stands firm.

The 1913 Romanov Tercentenary celebrations occur and a lavish Royal Tour across Imperial Russia ensues, but crowds are thin. Other national festivities and Church celebrations go ahead, but at an event at the Kiev Opera House, Stolypin is assassinated. Nicholas responds by executing the assassins, permitting the police to terrorize the peasants, and dissolving the Duma.

Alexei falls at the Spała Hunting Lodge, which leads to a bleeding attack so severe that it is presumed he will die. The Tsarina writes to Rasputin, who responds with words of comfort. Alexei recovers and Rasputin returns.

When World War I begins, Nicholas orders a full mobilization of the Imperial Russian Army on the German border bolstered by familial ties to the other royal families and his military officers, who overconfidently expect a quick war. Germany responds by declaring war and activating a series of its alliances that escalates the war. A year later, with the war going badly for Russia on the Eastern Front, Alexandra persuades Nicholas to take personal command of the troops; he leaves for the front, relieving the weary but experienced Grand Duke Nicholas.

Alexandra is left with significant power in St. Petersburg and, under Rasputin's influence, makes a series of poor decisions that further damage the country. Nicholas receives a visit from the Dowager Empress, who scolds him for neglecting domestic issues and implores him to eliminate Rasputin and send Alexandra to Livadia. Concerned about Rasputin's influence, Grand Duke Dmitri and Prince Felix Yusupov assassinate him at a party in 1916.

Even with Rasputin dead, Alexandra continues her misrule. The army is ill-supplied, starving, and openly defiant, and freezing workers revolt in St. Petersburg in March 1917. Nicholas decides to return to Tsarskoye Selo too late and is forced to abdicate on his train.

The family, with Dr. Botkin and attendants, leave Tsarskoye Selo and are exiled by Alexander Kerensky to Tobolsk in Siberia in August 1917 after none of Russia's allies, to whom he appealed for political asylum, including Nicholas' cousin King George V of the United Kingdom, will grant them sanctuary because of Nicholas' abuses of power and concern that copycat revolutions will foment in their own countries. They live in a spartan house in the tundra with decent guards. In October 1917, Russia falls to the Bolsheviks, who intend to take the royal family to Moscow to stand trial. However, when Moscow is captured by the White Army during the Russian Civil War, the royals are diverted to Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg. Under harsher conditions, they are guarded by the cold-blooded Yakov Yurovsky and his anti-royalist troops.

The family receives a batch of withheld letters from friends and relatives and laugh together as they read through them. In the early hours of 17 July 1918, the Bolsheviks awaken the family and Dr. Botkin, telling them they must be transferred again. As they are waiting in the cellar, Yurovsky and his assistants enter the room and open fire.




Producer Spiegel tackled Nicholas and Alexandra when he was shut out from working with director David Lean on Doctor Zhivago, which was also set against the backdrop of revolutionary Russia. Spiegel had alienated Lean when the two worked together on the film Lawrence of Arabia, pressing the perfectionist director in order to get the movie finished on time.

Spiegel initially tried to make Nicholas and Alexandra without buying the rights to the book by Robert K. Massie, claiming that the historical account was in public domain but, eventually, Spiegel purchased the rights for $150,000.[5] He hired writer James Goldman to adapt Massie's book as a screenplay. Goldman had written the popular play and film The Lion in Winter.

The first director was George Stevens who left the project. Anthony Harvey became involved in December 1968 but he left by February 1969. Ken Russell, Lindsay Anderson, and John Boorman were all approached but turned it down. Joseph L. Mankiewicz was briefly part of the project then Charles Jarrott joined in November 1969.[6] After seeing Patton, Goldman recommended Franklin J. Schaffner who signed in July 1970.

Spiegel turned to former collaborators John Box for production design, and cinematographer Freddie Young (Lawrence of Arabia) to give the production the epic touch he felt it needed. Principal photography took place in Spain and Yugoslavia.

Spiegel had to work with stricter budget constraints from Columbia Studios than before. He had wanted Peter O'Toole as Rasputin and Vanessa Redgrave as Alexandra but was constrained. Notable actors such as Laurence Olivier, Irene Worth, Michael Redgrave and Jack Hawkins appeared in the film, but actor Rex Harrison turned down a supporting role as too small. Spiegel offered the role of the Empress to Grace Kelly who turned it down.[7]

Tom Baker, a member of the Royal National Theatre, was recommended for the role of Rasputin by Laurence Olivier, then the director of the company.[8]


Filming began in Spain in November 1970 and took twenty weeks.



Despite the detailed production design, photography, and strong performances from the cast, Nicholas and Alexandra failed to find the large audience it needed to be a financial success.[9] However, it was chosen by the American National Board of Review as one of the Top 10 Films of 1971.[10]

The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 67% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 15 reviews, with an average rating of 6.20/10. On Metacritic, the film has an average score of 57 out of 100 based on 10 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[11]

Variety called it "a film of exquisite taste."[12]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times gave it two-and-a-half stars out of four, writing "If the movie isn't exactly stirring, however, it is undeniably interesting, especially after the intermission."[13]

Halliwell's Film and Video Guide described Nicholas and Alexandra as an "inflated epic of occasional interest, mainly for its sets" and "generally heavy going", awarding it one star from a possible four.[14] In 2013, Alex von Tunzelmann wrote for The Guardian, "Nicholas and Alexandra boasts terrific performances and gorgeous production design, but it's bloated and unwieldy. There is more history here than the film-makers know what to do with."[15] For Radio Times, Tom Hutchinson awarded the film three stars out of five, describing it as a "sumptuous, if overlong, epic" which "shows the stretchmarks of too much padding" and "overwhelms us with its detail, though Tom Baker is a lot of fun as the leering mystic Rasputin".[16] Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic described the film as 'flabby'.[17]

Box Office[edit]

By the end of the 1970s the film had lost Columbia $3 million.[18]

Historical accuracy[edit]

There is at least one anachronism; Peter Stolypin had been assassinated in 1911, two years before the Romanov dynasty tercentenary in which he is portrayed as being alive before being assassinated.[19]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Picture Sam Spiegel Nominated [20]
[22] [23]
Best Actress Janet Suzman Nominated
Best Costume Design Yvonne Blake, Antonio Castillo Won
Best Original Dramatic Score Richard Rodney Bennett Nominated
Best Cinematography Freddie Young Nominated
Best Art Direction John Box, Ernest Archer, Jack Maxsted, Gil Parrondo, Vernon Dixon Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actor Tom Baker Nominated
New Star of the Year — Actress Janet Suzman Nominated
New Star of the Year — Actor Tom Baker Nominated
BAFTAs Best Art Direction John Box Nominated
Best Costume Design Yvonne Blake, Antonio Castillo Nominated
Most Promising Newcomer Janet Suzman Nominated
Grammy Awards Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or a Television Special Richard Rodney Bennett Nominated

Home media[edit]

Nicholas and Alexandra received a home video release on VHS in 1987 by RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video and reissued in the 1990s by Columbia Tristar Home Video.

Its DVD release was on 27 July 1999 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The DVD featured a vintage 14-minute featurette on the production of the film and six more minutes of scenes and dialogue not found on previous VHS tapes.

The film received a Blu-ray release in February 2013 from Twilight Time. The Blu-ray featured three featurettes on the production of the film covering the makeup, costume designs and actresses playing the Tsar's daughters in the film. It also contained the original theatrical trailer as well as an isolated music score. The latter was presented in stereo even though the sound on the Blu-ray was presented in mono. The Blu-ray release was limited to only 3,000 copies. This film is also available for sale or rent as a video online download through both Amazon and Apple's iTunes Store, with Amazon's online file containing the six more minutes of scenes and dialogue that Apple's iTunes file doesn't.[24]


This soundtrack was written by Richard Rodney Bennett.

  1. Overture – 2:19
  2. Nicholas and Alexandra – 1:26
  3. The Royal Children – 1:23
  4. The Palace – 1:00
  5. Sunshine Days – 3:21
  6. Alexandra – 1:18
  7. The Romanov Tercentenary – 0:52
  8. Lenin in Exile – 1:21
  9. The Princessess – 2:20
  10. The Breakthrough – 2:35
  11. The Declaration of War – 2:55
  12. Extracte – 2:40
  13. The Journey to the Front – 1:02
  14. Military March – 2:40
  15. Rasputin's Death – 1:28
  16. The People Revolt – 1:19
  17. Alexandra Alone – 1:11
  18. Farewells – 2:30
  19. Dancing in the Snow – 1:11
  20. Departure from Tobolsk – 1:30
  21. Elegy – 1:38
  22. Epilogue – 1:50


  • Fraser-Cavassoni, Natasha (2003). Sam Spiegel. Simon & Schuster.


  1. ^ a b "NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA (A)". British Board of Film Classification. 19 October 1971. Retrieved 22 February 2016.
  2. ^ Nicholas and Alexandra, Notes. TCM. Retrieved May 20, 2018.
  3. ^ "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976, pg 44.
  4. ^ "NY Times: Nicholas and Alexandra". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2009. Archived from the original on 5 March 2009. Retrieved 28 December 2008.
  5. ^ Fraser-Cavassoni, p 289
  6. ^ "Nicholas and Alexandria". Retrieved 21 February 2022.
  7. ^ Englund, Steven (1984). Grace of Monaco : an interpretive biography. Doubleday. p. 289.
  8. ^ Jeffery, Morgan (20 January 2014). "Tom Baker turns 80: Doctor Who legend's best screen moments". Digital Spy. Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  9. ^ Kirgo, Julie "Nicholas and Alexandra" booklet, Twilight Time, 2013
  10. ^ "National Board of Review".
  11. ^ Nicholas and Alexandra, retrieved 8 October 2022
  12. ^ Variety Film Reviews 1971-74. 1983. p. 166.
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (4 February 1972). "Nicholas and Alexandra". Retrieved 1 January 2022.
  14. ^ Leslie Halliwell (1997). John Walker (ed.). Halliwell's Film and Video Guide. Collins. p. 550. ISBN 978-0002559324.
  15. ^ von Tunzelmann, Alex (14 June 2013). "Nicholas and Alexandra: mashing up history can't make this pair lovable". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  16. ^ Hutchinson, Tom. "Nicholas and Alexandra". Radio Times. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  17. ^ Kauffmann, Stanley (1974). Living Images Film Comment and Criticism. Harper & Row Publishers. p. 245.
  18. ^ Fraser-Cavassoni, p 302
  19. ^ Quotes from General Alexander Spiridovitch, "Murder of Prime Minister Stolypin in Kiev 1911" (1929) translated by Rob Moshein
  20. ^ "The 44th Academy Awards (1972) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 28 August 2011.
  21. ^ Awards for Nicholas and Alexandra at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata
  22. ^ "Nicholas and Alexandra – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved 3 February 2023.
  23. ^ |title=1972 Grammy Winners |accessdate=2023-02-03|
  24. ^ "Screen Archives Entertainment".

External links[edit]