Nicholas and Alexandra

Nicholas and Alexandra is a 1971 British biographical film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and written by James Goldman, based on Robert K. Massie's book of the same name, which partly tells the story of the last ruling Russian monarch, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and his wife, Tsarina Alexandra.

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

The film won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Art Direction: John Box, Ernest Archer, Jack Maxsted and Gil Parrondo; Set Decoration: Vernon Dixon) and Best Costume Design (Yvonne Blake and Antonio Castillo), and was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Janet Suzman), Best Cinematography, Best Music, Original Dramatic Score and Best Picture.[4]


Alexei, youngest child of Tsar Nicholas, is born in 1904 during the Russo-Japanese War. Nicholas is warned by his cousin Grand Duke Nicholas and the Prime Minister Count Witte that the war is futile and costing too many lives. They tell him the Russian people want representative government, health care, voting and workers' rights, but Nicholas wants to maintain the autocracy. Meanwhile, underground political parties led by Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky have formed.

Alexei is diagnosed with hemophilia. The Tsarina Alexandra, a German princess, is disliked by the Russian royal court. She befriends Rasputin, a Siberian peasant passing as a holy man, hoping he will heal Alexei.

Working under appalling conditions, factory workers are encouraged by Father Georgy Gapon to take part in a peaceful procession to the Winter Palace to present a petition to the Tsar. However, hundreds of soldiers standing in front of the palace fire into the crowd. Nicholas hears of this, the Bloody Sunday massacre, and is horrified.

In 1913 the family holidays at the Livadia Palace in the Crimea. Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin has preserved the Russian Empire by addressing some of the people's grievances. He presents Nicholas with police reports about Rasputin's dissolute behaviour which is damaging the Tsar's reputation. Nicholas dismisses Rasputin from the court. Alexandra demands his return, as she believes only Rasputin can stop the 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, Prime Minister Stolypin is assassinated. Nicholas executes the assassins and closes the Duma, allowing police to terrorise many peasants.

Alexei falls at the Spała Hunting Lodge, which leads to another bleeding attack. 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, prompting Germany to declare war and activate a series of alliances that escalates the war. In 1915, with the war going badly for Russia, he decides to take personal command of the troops and leaves for the front, taking over from his experienced cousin, Grand Duke Nicholas.

Alexandra is left in charge at home and, under Rasputin's influence, makes poor decisions. Nicholas is visited by his mother Dowager Empress Feodorovna, who is critical of his incompetence. She scolds him about neglecting domestic issues and implores him to eliminate Rasputin and send Alexandra to Livadia in the Crimea. Concerned about Rasputin's influence, Grand Duke Dmitri and Prince Felix Yusupov invite Rasputin to a party in December 1916 and eventually murder him despite several unsuccessful attempts.

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

The family with Dr. Botkin and attendants leave Tsarskoye Selo and are exiled by Kerensky to Tobolsk in Siberia in August 1917 after Nicholas is told that none of Russia's Allies, including Nicholas' own cousin George V of the United Kingdom, will grant them sanctuary because of Nicholas' past abuses of power over his people. They live guarded by more decent guards but under less grand conditions. In October 1917, Russia falls to the Bolsheviks. The family is transferred to the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg. Under harsher conditions they are guarded by the cold-blooded Yakov Yurovsky. One of the guards attempts to steal Alexei's gold chain, in the process attacking the child, and Nagorny leaps to his defense. Nagorny is taken away and shot.

The family are given a batch of withheld letters from friends and relatives and, except for Alexei, 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. They are waiting in the cellar, when 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 constantly dogging the perfectionist director in order to get the film Lawrence of Arabia finished on time. Spiegel initially tried to make Nicholas and Alexandra without buying the rights to the book by Robert K. Massie's claiming the story was in public domain but, eventually, Spiegel purchased the rights and hired writer James Goldman to do the adaptation of Massie's book.

Goldman, who had written the popular play and film The Lion in Winter, laboured on draft after draft as directors came and went (George Stevens, Anthony Harvey, Joseph Mankiewicz and Charles Jarrot were all attached to the project at one point). After seeing Patton, Goldman recommended Franklin J. Schaffner (who would go on to win his Best Director Academy Award while working on Nicholas and Alexandra).

Spiegel turned to former collaborators John Box to do the production design and cinematographer Freddie Young (Lawrence of Arabia) to work on the film so as 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 than before, preventing him from achieving his first choices for the leads (Peter O'Toole as Rasputin and Vanessa Redgrave as Alexandra) and, while well-known actors such as Laurence Olivier, Irene Worth, Michael Redgrave and Jack Hawkins appeared in the film, actor Rex Harrison turned down a supporting role because he felt it was too small.

Tom Baker was a member of the Royal National Theatre who was recommended to the producer and director by Laurence Olivier, then director of the company, for the role of Rasputin.[5]

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.[6]


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.[7] 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."[8] 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".[9]


Nicholas and Alexandra was nominated for three Golden Globes including Best Supporting Actor and Most Promising Newcomer for Baker and Most Promising Newcomer for Suzman.[10]

The film received three nominations from BAFTA including Most Promising Newcomer for Janet Suzman, Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.[11]

Nicholas and Alexandra was recognised by the National Board of Review as one of the Top 10 Films of 1972.[12]

The score by Richard Rodney Bennett was nominated for a Grammy.

The film was nominated for six Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction, and won two, Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction.[13]

Home media

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.[14]


This soundtrack was written by Richard Rodney Bennett.

  1. Overture (02:19)
  2. Nicholas and Alexandra (01:26)
  3. The Royal Children (01:23)
  4. The Palace (01:00)
  5. Sunshine Days (03:21)
  6. Alexandra (01:18)
  7. The Romanov Tercentenary (00:52)
  8. Lenin in Exile (01:21)
  9. The Princessess (02:20)
  10. The Breakthrough (02:35)
  11. The Declaration of War (02:55)
  12. Extracte (02:40)
  13. The Journey to the Front (01:02)
  14. Military March (02:40)
  15. Rasputin's Death (01:28)
  16. The People Revolt (01:19)
  17. Alexandra Alone (01:11)
  18. Farewells (02:30)
  19. Dancing in the Snow (01:11)
  20. Departure from Tobolsk (01:30)
  21. Elegy (01:38)
  22. Epilogue (01:50)

Historical sources and accuracy

There is at least one variation from history in the film. Stolypin had been assassinated in 1911, two years before the Romanov dynastic tercentenary.

Although Robert Massie wrote the book upon which this film was based, he did not have complete information because the Soviet government would not permit the release of all relevant records. Twenty years after the film debuted, the Soviet Union was dissolved and the records of the Romanovs were released. Massie later wrote a continuation, The Romanovs: The Final Chapter.


  1. "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". NY Times. Retrieved 28 December 2008.
  5. Jeffery, Morgan (20 January 2014). "Tom Baker turns 80: Doctor Who legend's best screen moments". Digital Spy. Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  6. Kirgo, Julie "Nicholas and Alexandra" booklet, Twilight Time, 2013
  7. Leslie Halliwell (1997). John Walker (ed.). Halliwell's Film and Video Guide. Collins. p. 550. ISBN 978-0002559324.
  8. von Tunzelmann, Alex (14 June 2013). "Nicholas and Alexandra: mashing up history can't make this pair lovable". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  9. Hutchinson, Tom. "Nicholas and Alexandra". Radio Times. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
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