At just over three hours long, 1971’s Nicholas and Alexandra is a movie that has the slow, inexorable melodramatic pacing of the Titanic treading towards an iceberg. The first half (for there is an intermission) plods along as a dictatorial jerk of a Tsar acts like he still lives in the 18th century while Lenin, the Bolsheviks, and miscellaneous peasant groups riot and make plans to overthrow Nicholas’ rule. Meanwhile, whiny Alexandra frets over her hemophiliac baby boy and becomes a religious zelot thanks to Rasputin.
I have to admit, I first rented this on VHS as a teenager because Tom Baker played Rasputin — he was and is my One True Doctor, having also played the Fourth Doctor Who. But even as a teen, most of this movie bored me. It hasn’t improved with age, mine or its, when I caught up with it on Turner Classics recently. Baker’s Rasputin is only noteworthy for his trademark mesmerizing voice, but otherwise, he’s written as the cliche “mad monk,” and is dispatched midway through the flick.
The costumes are rather good, however. Alexandra and the dowager Maria Feodorovna drip with jewels, many of which are straight out of photographs of the Russian royal family (for example, you can see the same latticework pearl choker here). Excellent and appropriate use of fur in the costumes too. Michael Jayston is the spitting image of the Tsar. My one big complaint with the styling is Janet Suzman, as Alexandra, really needed to get those bangs tamed. Yes, bangs were done a little bit during this time period, but the Tsarina‘s weren’t so crazy modern like that, covering her whole forehead.
The best part of the film is towards the end, after the Tsar abdicates. Suddenly Jayston and Suzman can act! It’s like they were holding back through the whole movie. There are some scenes of depth and emotion between them and their family, and then, of course, they’re all executed. Oh well.