WCW: Empress Alexandra of Russia

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Born Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine (in modern Germany), Empress Alexandra Feodorovna (1872–1918) became empress of Russia through her marriage to Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia. She was known for her beauty and shyness when young, and as tsarina she played a part in the end of the Russian monarchy through two key factors. For one, she was very much an absolutist and encouraged her husband to be so as well. More importantly, her son, the heir to the throne Alexei, had hemophilia. Alexandra fell under the influence of famous mystic Rasputin, who was able to help Alexei. But because Alexei’s illness was a secret, the imperial family really removed themselves from the Russian people and so was out of touch with the problems of the masses, while the masses had little emotional investment in the imperial family.

I in no way have a crush on Alexandra, but like some of the other women we’ve featured, she is an interesting and important historical figure who has been on screen many times. Let’s run down her film and TV appearances!

Engagement official picture of Tsar Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, April 1894, via Wikimedia Commons.

Engagement official picture of Tsar Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, April 1894, via Wikimedia Commons.

Russian_Imperial_Family_1913

Russian Imperial Family, 1913, via Wikimedia Commons.

Tsarina Alexandra and Tsarevich Alexei in a stateroom aboard the Imperial Yacht Standart, c. 1911, Beinecke Library

Tsarina Alexandra and Tsarevich Alexei in a stateroom aboard the Imperial Yacht Standart, c. 1911, Beinecke Library

 

The Fall of the Romanoffs (1917)

An American silent film, with Nance O’Neil as the empress.

1917 The Fall of the Romanoffs

It’s basically contemporary, so hard to mess it up.

1917 The Fall of the Romanoffs

Ah, the subtlety of silent film acting!

 

Rasputins Liebesabenteuer (1928)

A German silent film that was sympathetic to Rasputin. Diana Karenne (The Queen’s Necklace) played Alexandra.

1928 Rasputins Liebesabenteuer

Is she supposed to look hypnotized on the top left? Or is that just 1920s eye makeup?

 

Rasputin and the Empress (1932)

An American film with Ethel Barrymore as Empress Alexandra.

Rasputin and the Empress (1932)

That’s Ethel on your right, with brother Lionel — who plays Rasputin — on the left.

Rasputin and the Empress (1932)

WHY IS SHE WEARING A SWASTIKA PENDANT?

Rasputin and the Empress (1932)

Going full Russian court dress.

Rasputin and the Empress (1932)

THAT is a big honkin’ crown!

Rasputin and the Empress (1932)

I mostly like this?

 

Rasputin, Demon with Women (1932)

A German film focused on Rasputin’s relationship with the imperial family. German actress Hermine Sterler plays Alexandra. That title is hilarious!

1932 Rasputin, Demon with Women

The best I could do.

 

Knight Without Armor (1937)

A British film starring Marlene Dietrich that’s set during the Russian Revolution. Lisa Lee plays a minor, uncredited role as Empress Alexandra.

1937 Knight Without Armor

Lee/Alexandra might be in this picture, or she might not.

 

Rasputin (1938)

A French film focused on Rasputin; Marcelle Chantal (The Queen’s Necklace) plays Alexandra.

1938 Rasputin

That hair is looking very late ’30s/early ’40s!

1938 Rasputin

 

The Night They Killed Rasputin (1960)

An Italian-French film, with Italian actress Gianna Maria Canale (Theodora, Slave Empress; Madame du Barry; Napoléon) as Alexandra.

1960 The Night They Killed Rasputin

Clearly cheap wigs were a theme.

1960 The Night They Killed Rasputin

This looks potentially hilarious?

 

Rasputin, the Mad Monk (1966)

A Hammer horror film focused on, you guessed it, Rasputin. English actress Renée Asherson (Henry V, Caesar and Cleopatra) plays the tsarina.

1966 Rasputin, the Mad Monk

Hammer did all those cheesy 1960s horror movies, like Dracula.

1966 Rasputin, the Mad Monk

Her hair is looking VERY bouffant.

1966 Rasputin, the Mad Monk

 

I Killed Rasputin (1967)

Based on a book by one of the people who killed Rasputin (Felix Yusupov, who also appears in the film). Franco-German actress Dorothée Blanck has an uncredited role as Alexandra.

1967 I Killed Rasputin

I’m getting a strong Doctor Zhivago vibe here.

1967 I Killed Rasputin

Photo by RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images

 

Oh! What a Lovely War (1969)

A British comedy/musical, adapted from a stage play, that tells the story of World War I using popular music of the era. English actress Pamela Abbott has an uncredited role as the Russian empress.

1969 Oh! What a Lovely War

Allegedly Alexandra is in here — on the far right? Maybe?

 

Nicholas and Alexandra (1971)

A British “epic historical drama” focused on the tsar and his wife (Janet Suzman – The Draughtsman’s Contract).

1971 Nicholas and Alexandra

The costumes in this do look epic!

1971 Nicholas and Alexandra

Too bad Trystan says it’s snoozy.

1971 Nicholas and Alexandra Nicholas and Alexandra (1971)

 

Agony (1974)

A Soviet film that, per Wikipedia, “notable for its rich, sometimes baroque style, its sumptuous recreation of episodes from the final year of Imperial Russia and the psychological portraits of Grigori Rasputin and the Imperial family.” Latvian actress Velta Līne plays Alexandra.

1974 Agony

This might be Alexandra, having a moment with Rasputin?

1974 Agony

This is definitely Alexandra! Rocking the coral lipstick.

 

Fall of Eagles (1974)

A ginormous British miniseries that spans 1848-1918 and follows the ruling families of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia. Gayle Hunnicutt plays the Russian empress.

1974 Fall of Eagles

Ok, this is all my Edwardian fantasies come true!

 

A cárné összeesküvése aka “The Tsar’s Conspiracy” (1977)

A Hungarian TV movie with Éva Ruttkai as Alexandra.

1977 A cárné összeesküvése

If I squint, that hat is 1910s.

1977 A cárné összeesküvése

But I’m REALLY having to squint.

1977 A cárné összeesküvése

She’s wearing an afghan?

 

Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986)

An American TV movie focused on Anna Anderson, who claimed to be Alexandra’s (Claire Bloom: Richard III, The Buccaneer) daughter Anastasia.

1986 Anastasia- The Mystery of Anna

I can’t control it, I have leftover nostalgia from childhood!

1986 Anastasia- The Mystery of Anna

 

Assassin of the Tsar (1991)

A Soviet film about Yakov Yurovsky, one of the imperial family’s executioners, with Olga Antonova as the empress.

1991 Assassin of the Tsar

You gotta love the lineup of women/girls in white dresses.

1991 Assassin of the Tsar

It’s quintessentially “Russian imperial family.”

 

Искупительная жертва aka “The Atoning Sacrifice” (1992)

All I can tell is it’s Russian! Eleonora Kazanskaya plays Alexandra.

1992 The Atoning Sacrifice

I tried to lighten this pic. This is as good as it got.

 

Конь белый aka “The White Horse” (1993)

A Russian TV miniseries focused on the Russian civil war in Siberia (1917-20). Eleonora Kazanskaya again plays the empress.

1993 The White Horse

Decent-ish court dress?

 

Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny (1996)

A TV movie with Greta Scacchi as Alexandra.

1996 Rasputin

I do really want to watch this one, if only for Scacchi (and Ian McKellen!).

1996 Rasputin- Dark Servant of Destiny

What can I say, I have a thing for “doomed.”

1996 Rasputin- Dark Servant of Destiny

That’s Alan Rickman as Rasputin.

 

The Romanovs: An Imperial Family (2000)

A Russian film about the last days of the imperial family. English actress Lynda Bellingham (All Creatures Great and Small) plays Alexandra.

2000 The Romanovs- an Imperial Family
2000 The Romanovs- an Imperial Family

Decent hair!

 

The Lost Prince (2003)

A British TV miniseries focused on Britain’s King George V and Queen Mary, and their son Prince John; at one point the Russian royal family comes to visit. Lithuanian actress Ingeborga Dapkūnaitė (Shadow of the Vampire) played Alexandra.

2003 The Lost Prince

I should have rated these costumes as higher when I first reviewed this film.

2003 The Lost Prince

Because that’s right out of a photograph!

 

Yesenin (2005)

A Russian TV miniseries about the death of poet Sergei Yesenin. Ekaterina Untilova plays Alexandra.

2005 Esenin

I got nothing.

2005 Esenin

Столыпин … Невыученные уроки aka “Stolypin … Unlearned lessons” (2006)

A Russian TV miniseries about Minister of Internal Affairs Pyotr Stolypin, who attempted to reform the Russian Empire before the revolution. Vera Bobrova plays the empress.

2006 Stolypin ... Unlearned lessons

What’s with the plastic pearl Juliet cap?

2006 Stolypin ... Unlearned lessons

 

Conspiracy (2007)

A Russian TV movie, maybe about the plot to kill Rasputin? I’m guessing based on the DVD cover! Christina Orbakaite plays Alexandra.

2007 Conspiracy

From the period when the empress (and her daughters) served as nurses during World War I.

 

Star of the Empire (2007)

I got nothing, except that it’s Russian, and Nataliya Zhitkova plays Alexandra!

2007 Star of the Empire

 

The Romanovs (2013)

A docu-drama about the family that ruled Russia from 1613 to 1917. I tried to watch this, and while it’s pretty, it’s ALL rapid fire narration. “THIS happened then THIS happened then THIS happened.” No analysis, no dialogue — I just couldn’t get interested.

2013 Romanovs

I never got past the 17th century.

 

Grigoriy R. (2014)

A Russian TV miniseries focused on Rasputin. Ingeborga Dapkūnaitė reprises her role as the empress.

2014 Grigoriy R
2014 Grigoriy R.

Looks decent?

 

Mathilde: The Affair to Break an Empire (2017)

A Russian film focused on ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya, mistress to Nicholas II before he married Alexandra (German actress Luise Wolfram).

2017 mathilde the affair to break an empire

Alexandra is a strong character in this.

2017 mathilde the affair to break an empire

And her wardrobe is QUITE chic!

2017 mathilde the affair to break an empire

That hat! That brooch!

2017 mathilde the affair to break an empire

So there are some missteps.

2017 mathilde the affair to break an empire

The coronation.

 

Крылья империи aka “Wings of the Empire” (2017)

A Russian TV series focusing on a soldier, a poet, and a socialist worker from 1913 through 1921. Ekaterina Proskurina plays Alexandra.

2017 Wings of the Empire

 

The Last Czars (2019)

A Netflix docu-drama about Nicholas II from his accession to the throne through his murder. Deeply weird.

2019 The Last Czars

Rocking the 1870s dress in what is supposed to be the 1890s.

2019 The Last Czars

Un-stellar court dress.

2019 The Last Czars

Acceptable.

2019 The Last Czars

At least we’re not seeing her nipple!

2019 The Last Czars

DOOMED, I TELL YOU.

 

 

Who’s your Empress Alexandra of Russia on screen?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

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.

33 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    Janet Suzman and Greta Sacchi are my favourites. Ingeborga Dapkunaite played Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna and probably has never played Alix. The Mathilde travesty movie had fairly good – B+ to A- range of Court gowns and actually cast a strawberry blonde as Alix. The Tsarina did gave that colour of hair.

    Reply
  2. Colleen

    I watched The Last Czars and was shocked by what I saw. I wasn’t expecting scenes of full on orgies and Nicholas and Alexandra have sex basically anywhere and everywhere. I don’t think it really helped improve Alexandra’s image of her obsession with Rasputin.

    Reply
    • Roxana

      Nicholas and Alexandra had a passionate marriage, they were very much in love and stayed in love to the bitter end, but as far as we know they kept their sexy times in the bedroom.

      Reply
  3. Hooley

    Re “Rasputin and the Empress” (1932), while Lionel plays Rasputin, the elegant man in the first photo is their brother John Barrymore, who plays Prince Chegodieff.

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      Was about to say something. Lionel loved chewing scenery, so he was a natural for Rasputin. John liked playing against his good looks, but he’s definitely Prince Paul here, a composite figure who helps assassinate Rasputin. Ethel was a good choice for Alexandra; she did dignity well. (Alexandra always struck me as a depressive who would have been better off moving to England to be with her mother’s family.)

      All these Alexandras! I hadn’t realized there were so many tragic-Romanov productions. I still like the “Fall of Eagles” Romanov family best. Kind of static but absorbing.

      Reply
  4. Penny H

    At least the swastika pendant was running clockwise, not counterclockwise like you know whose.

    Reply
    • Susan Pola Staples

      Before it was used by the Nazis, the swastika was used by American Indigenous people and it’s also an ancient Christian symbol.

      Reply
      • hsc

        It was also fairly commonly used throughout Europe and in the U.S. right up until the point Nazis started making it an infamous symbol of hatred and genocide.

        About 30 years ago, I saw an article on an artist who had researched the pre-Nazi use of the symbol and I was stunned at pictures of mundane things like girl’s school sports teams wearing matching swastika sweaters.

        It then had no negative connotations and was frequently used simply as a “good luck” symbol, and it was pretty widespread, even on greeting cards and the like.

        At the time the film was being made, a woman in the U.S. could apparently still wear a swastika pendant like that without anyone blinking.

        Reply
        • Elina

          As a fellow Eastern European I can confirm the symbol dates back to ancient times. It’s meaning has to do with the sun and its developing powers, but again there is a trick – whether it’s going clockwise or counter-clockwise it can either be a symbol of creative energy or destruction. It was used since Tracians in our lands, and it’s origin may date even before this.
          Given the age of the movie – why not, they couldn’t foresee the future. Who knows in a few years which symbol will become obsolete and inappropriate and unintendingly we are wearing it right now.

          Reply
    • Laura

      If I remember correctly, Alexandra took to the clockwise symbol and had many iterations of it displayed in her mauve room for reasons likely due to her deep religious or superstitious beliefs. I give that necklace an A+ for accuracy, though I do not blame more modern filmmakers for omitting the symbol postwar.

      Reply
    • MsNomi

      The swastika has a long and interesting history in mysticism and many religions. In India you will see it painted and carved into furniture and door frames and temples, etc.

      Reply
  5. Bea

    Did you know that Tom Baker (the Forth Doctor) was Rasputin in the stage version of Nicholas and Alexandra when he was added to the short list for Jon Pertwee’s replacement?
    …it always seems so incongruous to me
    .
    And I’ve seen the Alan Rickman Rasputin (because Alan Rickman, obvs). It was solidly done, but I wasn’t watching the costuming in it….alas

    Reply
  6. susan l eiffert

    In addition, the swastika was an ancient religious symbol used by many religions in Eurasia. I’m sure in this case it has something to do w/ rasputins mysticism and influence over her.

    Reply
  7. Roxana

    That big honking crown bears a strong resemblance to a real imperial diadem but I I’m pretty sure it’s out of proportion.
    Alexandra had some issues, her shyness verged on pathological and while there seems to have been some organic disease her ill health was definitely related to stress. Both she and Nicholas were introverts and being very much in love they preferred to cocoon with their children isolating themselves.
    Rasputin was neither mad nor a monk. In today’s language he was Alexandra and Nicholas’s personal guru. All indications are he was genuinely loyal to the imperial couple but completely unfit to be a political advisor. His sexual morals were definitely peccable but there is no evidence he ever misbehaved with Alexandra or the children. The grand duchesses confided their adolescent crushes to Rasputin and he gave them some very sensible advice. His influence was immensely destructive but only because Nicholas and Alexandra let him.

    Reply
  8. EA Gorman

    I have no great love for the Romanovs. They’re the reason my great-grandparents came to America. Think “Fiddler on the Roof” without the music but a happier ending. And yes one could say Alexandra wasn’t exactly the best spouse for a monarch on the brink of revolution. But honestly I don’t know who could have pulled Nicholas’s head out of his butt. Eleanor Roosevelt, maybe? I do admit, the “court dress” is pretty.

    Reply
  9. Frances Germeshausen

    “The Last Tsars” was one of the weirdest things I’d ever seen. The bearskin rug scene? Did NOT need.

    Reply
  10. Addie

    The lighting and set for “The Tsar’s Conspiracy” looks like the one from the Mary Tyler Moore Show.

    Reply
  11. Rowen G.

    I observe that ‘Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny’ is currently on youtube. I may watch it, because Alan Rickman.

    Reply
  12. Jose

    You left a few out like Isa Miranda in Raspoutine (1954) and Isabel Dean in Rasputin 1971 and Fanny Ardant in Rasputin 2011 also in I Killed Rasputin I suppose you didn’t find much right? Therefore you put some young Geraldine Chaplin in the place
    I’ve been waiting for this for quite a long time did a terrific job Kendra, had some I didn’t even heard about

    Reply
  13. Florence

    I studied in Darmstadt, Alexandra’s birthplace. There is a Russian Orthodox chapel in the city, that the couple had built for when they were in the city visiting family. The rumor is that it’s built on “Russian soil”, as in imported dirt, transported from Russia.

    Reply
    • Florence

      She was christened “Alix”. Her mother Alice, daughter of Queen Victoria, felt that the locals mangled her name, so she chose a variant where the proniunciation was clear in the local German dialect.

      Reply

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