Mathilde Does 1890s Couture (Mostly) Right


Mathilde, aka Matilda, currently showing on Amazon Prime under the title Mathilde: The Affair to Break an Empire, is a 2017 Russian film that purports to tell the story of future Tsar Nicholas II’s premarital relationship with ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya. There was a whole lot of controversy when this came out in Russia, because it shows the now-venerated tsar (officially: he’s now Saint Nicholas the Passion-Bearer in the Russian Orthodox Church) getting up to some serious premarital sexytimes. But you should watch it if for no other reason than wow, they did a (mostly) amazing job showing 1890s couture!

Okay, so the film takes massive liberties with historical accuracy. Basically it shows Mathilde as Nicholas’s One True Love, and puts the two into a love triangle with Alix (the future Empress Alexandra). While it’s true Nicholas and Mathilde had a relationship, it seems to have ended nicely as Nicholas got engaged (read more at The History Press). And according to Nicholas’s own diaries, he was super smitten with Alix.

Nonetheless, it’s an entertaining film, even if the ending rang hollow, and there are some semi-unnecessary plot threads, because THE COSTUMES, PEOPLE…

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2017 mathilde the affair to break an empire

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About the author



Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

10 Responses

  1. Roxana

    Nicholas loved Alexandra truly, madly, deeply to the bitter end. And she loved him. She knew all about the affair with Mathilde and dismissed it as a youthful folly. Neither Nicholas nor Mathilde took their affair seriously. It was practically routine for a Grand Duke to have a dancer as a mistress, and a coup for a dancer to be that mistress. Mathilde had the class to make no trouble and moved on to Nicholas’s cousins. She played by the rules and did very well out of her Imperial affairs. She escaped Russia after the Revolution, married one of her Grand Ducal lovers and got a title for her son. She did very well in Paris. She was obviously a lady who knew how to look out for herself.

  2. Susan Pola Staples

    I actually own the DVD. Although the costumes were superb. I really dislike their fast and loose playing with history. Anyone with any grain of sense knows Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt was Nicky’s OTP and that his determination to win her finally showed his parents that he was sincere.
    I’ll wait a year to say more so that your Patreon posts will be available.

  3. Katriona

    I loved the ballet costumes, hair and the hats but I wasn’t into most of the other costumes. They were beautifully designed but they looked kind of cheap to me, a lot of shiny, thin material which is a real shame because if they had used nicer fabric they could have been stunning. But I get that you can’t make all the costumes out of expensive fabric when you have to make hundreds, there’s a budget after all.

    There were some eyebrow raisers for me, like her leather corset outfit but also some stuff that looked more mid-1880s than 1890s and I didn’t like the fit of some costumes, especially on the extras (so many weird underbust corsets…). I can’t even explain it but a lot of the costumes just don’t look right to me, for example the yellow ball gown. There’s just something that seems off but I can’t put my finger on it.

    I was also super disappointed by the story because they made Alix out to be some kind of villain and that didn’t sit right with me, especially considering the way she died and all. (The film has a real problem with its female characters anyways. Mathilde has no female friends, all women hate her for some reason… I’m not into that.)

    Loved the post though. <3

  4. Julia Atkinson

    I’m still trying to understand how the blood-stained pointe shoe stolen by Alix turned into a blood-stained soft slipper.


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