Nicholas and Alexandra

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.

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]

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]



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 and put the Romanov dynasty at risk. As the war continues, growing public unrest sees a procession of workers march to the Winter Palace, hoping to present Nicholas with a petition calling for political representation. Soldiers open fire on the approaching crowd, killing hundreds. The resulting revolution forces Nicholas to create the Duma.

At a gala, Alexandra meets Grigori Rasputin, a self-proclaimed holy man, who she later turns to for spiritual guidance after court physicians diagnose Alexei with haemophilia. As the years pass the close relationship between the royal family and Rasputin, combined with Rasputin's behaviour, leads to public mockery of the royal family. Nicholas eventually dismisses Rasputin from the court despite Alexandra's pleas otherwise.

The Romanov Tercentenary celebrations occur and a lavish tour across Imperial Russia ensues, but resentment amongst the impoverished remains. Amongst the national festivities and celebrations Russian prime minister Stolypin is assassinated. Nicholas responds by executing the assassins, permitting the police to terrorize the peasants, and closes the Duma.

Following a fall at the Spała Hunting Lodge, Alexei suffers a bleeding attack so severe that it is presumed he will die. Alexandra writes to Rasputin who responds with prayer and instruction for Alexei to be left alone by the doctors. His recover is chalked up to Rasputin's intervention and as a result is allowed to return to the imperial household.

After the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, Nicholas orders a mobilization of the Imperial Russian Army on the European border aimed at Austria-Hungary during the July Crisis. Germany responds by declaring war, against the assumptions of Nicholas given his familial connection to the Kaiser. 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 nominally in charge upon Nicholas' absence but a series of poor decisions leaves her seen to be a German agent under the influence of Rasputin, resulting in growing unpopularity amongst the population at large as conditions worse. Nicholas receives a visit from the Dowager Empress, but her requests for him to return to St. Petersburg and remove Rasputin go unheeded. Rasputin's later assassination does little to stop Alexandra's misrule, culminating in revolt by workers and soldiers in St. Petersburg. Nicholas finally attempts to return to Tsarskoye Selo but is instead forced to abdicate on his train.

The family, along with a small entourage, are exiled by Alexander Kerensky and the provisional government to Siberia after none of Russia's allies agree to grant the former royals sanctuary, fearing that the lingering resentment at their autocratic rule would unleash similar domestic revolts. The provisional government doesn't last however following the seizing of power by the Bolsheviks and the country's descent into civil war. Fearing that the encroaching pro-monarchist "Whites" will attempt to restore the Romanovs, the Bolsheviks in Moscow attempt to have the royal family brought back for trial.

En-route back to the capital, the royals and their escort are intercepted by representatives of the local revolutionary government, who seize the royals and bring them to Yekaterinburg. Under harsh conditions, they are guarded by Yakov Yurovsky, who later receives orders to have the family killed. In the middle of the night the family are awoken by his men and, under the pretense they need to transferred again, are brought to the cellar where they are executed.







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


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

Historical accuracy


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

Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Picture Sam Spiegel Nominated [20]
[citation needed]
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


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.[23]



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. ^ "Nicholas and Alexandra – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved 3 February 2023.
  22. ^ |title=1972 Grammy Winners |accessdate=2023-02-03|
  23. ^ "Screen Archives Entertainment".