Nicholas and Alexandra

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Limited Edition of 3,000 Units

Columbia Pictures/Twilight Time/Franklin J. Schaffner/1971/United Kingdom

Running Time: 189 minutes

Region Code: Region Free

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Video: 1080p High Definition

Audio: English 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Mono

Language: English

Subtitles: Optional English SDH

Adapted from the American historian and Pulitzer Prize winning author Robert K. Massie’s 1967 biography of the same name, ‘Nicholas and Alexandra’, a 1971 Best Picture Academy Award nominee, proves a sumptuous, sweeping, yet effectively intimate and intensely compelling depiction of the downfall of the last of the Romanov dynasty; arguably one of the most bizarre and fascinating episodes in Russian political history.

After a series of well-publicised breakups with such directing luminaries as Elia Kazan, John Huston and most notably, David Lean, the three time Academy Award winning producer Sam Spiegel (On the Waterfront -1954, Bridge on the River Kwai – 1957 and Lawrence of Arabia – 1962) set out to make this sweeping, Russian epic after Lean had previously teamed up with another producer, Carlo Ponti, for his similarly themed 1965 adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s great Russian novel ‘Doctor Zhivago’, in an attempt to produce his own version of the tale.

However, the production proved fairly troublesome to say the least, with budget constraints preventing him from casting box office starts Vanessa Redgrave and Peter O’Toole in the roles of the Tsarina and Rasputin and directors such as George Stevens and Joseph L. Mankiewicz turning down the project with great haste. Having just picked up the Academy Award for Best Director for his work on Patton (1970) during the pre-production stage of this film, screenwriter James Goldman suggested the now highly lauded director Franklin J. Schaffner for the project, and what a wise decision that proved, as he does a remarkable job, with the film perfectly utilising and showcasing his ability to portray both epic sweep and the intimacy of the characters that the film requires.

What I find slightly puzzling is the fact that, of the six Academy Award nominations the film received, director Schaffner was for some reason overlooked for his work here. Though perhaps better known for directing such film as Planet of the Apes (1968), Papillon (1973), The Boys from Brazil (1978) and the aforementioned Patton (which won a total of seven Academy Awards), he does a truly superb job here, and his astute, fine attention to detail, careful and beautifully choreographed artistry and sweeping scale of vision prove the perfect combination to deliver a vast and absorbing work with an ultimately intimate and slightly mellow tone.

Written by Academy Award winner James Goldman, who had received the award only two years previous for his work on the screen adaptation of his own 1966 hit Broadway play ‘The Lion in Winter’, the dialogue proves very perceptive and intelligently crafted, and Goldman does an excellent job adapting Massie’s expansive tome for the screen. Staying wholly respectful to the original work and effectively maintaining and conveying the eloquent and gripping episodic style of the piece, he cleverly illustrates the contrasting downfall and internal fragility within the Romanov family with the gradual and unexpected rising political power of the Bolshevik party (a revolutionary group that were not taken seriously enough), though it is perhaps not quite as intuitive as some of his earlier works.

However what I feel the film lacks is any real form of true emotional attachment, which would really elevate the film and deliver a more heartfelt and endearing piece of work, and the problem lies within the relationship between the eponymous Tsar and Tsarina (though the weakness here I feel is down to the script and does by no means diminish what are two outstanding central performances). In attempting to depict this vast story on so many complex levels, and introduce various different plot devices, the relationship between the central pair begins to feel less significant as the action unfolds, which of course could in itself be considered a clever plot device, as it is very symbolic of the their ultimate downfall, but it unfortunately begins to sacrifice and diminish the emotional impact of the piece that is initially introduced.

What does prove very effective and highly significant however, is in the way the film powerfully emphasises and conveys the agitation and atrocities suffered by the Russian people under the brutal, imposing, autocratic rule of Tsar Nicholas II. Convinced of his right to autocratic rule, his severe, blind attitude towards his people is further increased by the pressure’s enforced on him by his wife (a former German princess disregarded by the Russian people), driven to distraction and desperation in an attempt to cure her ailing, haemophiliac son, the Tsarevich Alexei (an effective Roderick Noble), ultimately putting her faith in the questionable healing and life-saving abilities of the mystical ‘Mad Monk’ Rasputin; a decision that would prove a major factor in the economic and military collapse of both the Romanov Dynasty and the former power house that was Imperial Russia.

The English Michael Jayston and South African Janet Suzman, both highly established classical stage actors in the UK, yet relatively unknown to US and International audiences at the time, are both incredibly strong, affecting and highly convincing as the eponymous Tsar and Tsarina, with Suzman receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role, though Jayston, who is quite brilliant as the Tsar, was tragically overlooked for a nomination.

They receive exceptional support from a who’s who of British acting including Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir Michael Redgrave, Jack Hawkins, Ian Holm, Timothy West, John Wood, Brian Cox, Harry Andrews, Eric Porter and Roy Dotrice with Tom Baker as an effectively creepy and sinister Grigori Rasputin and the great Irene Worth in fine form as the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna.

The film is visually and artistically sublime, and fully deserving of the six Academy Award nominations it received, including two wins for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration for John Box, Ernest Archer, Jack Maxsted, Gil Parrondo and Vernon Dixon’s glorious set design and Best Costume Design for the fine work of Yvonne Blake and Antonio Costello, as well as a nomination for the absorbing and often impossibly beautiful cinematography  from the great, three-time Academy Award winning master Freddie Young (Lawrence of Arabia -1962; Doctor Zhivago – 1965 and Ryan’s Daughter – 1970).

Twilight Time’s AVC encoded 1080p blu-ray transfer is arguably one of their finest, most absorbing and most beautifully presented releases to date, courtesy of a truly superb looking high definition master licensed from Sony Pictures.

Colours and tones are deep, vibrant and beautifully saturated, with the vivid reds and blues effectively popping off the screen; sharpness and fine detail is generally superb, with only a few minor instances of softness (mostly in the exterior, panoramic scenes); contrast and black levels are strong and Freddie Young’s stunning Academy Award nominated cinematography is wonderfully showcased throughout the presentation. Finally, the image appears very clean and free from any signs of dirt, speckles or ageing and thankfully there are no signs of any digital manipulation or enhancement. Superb!

The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix is also very strong, offering high levels of clarity, tone, fidelity and dynamic range. Dialogue is crisp, clear and well-rendered, with no clear signs of any hiss, and Richard Rodney Bennett’s stirring and grandiose Academy Award nominated score (also offered as an isolated track via a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix) is effectively highlighted.

Special Features:

Isolated Score Track – Featuring Richard Rodney Bennett’s stirring and suitably dramatic Academy Award nominated score.

Royal Daughters – A brief look at the four actresses who played the young daughters of the Tsar.

Changing Faces – A short featurette detailing the incredible make-up process which transformed the actors into their historical counterparts.

The Royal Touch – A look at the Academy Award winning costume designs from Yvonne Blake and Antonio Castillo.

Original Theatrical Trailer

A 6-page booklet featuring beautiful production stills and Julie Kirgo’s very interesting essay documenting the tempestuous working relationship between producer Sam Spiegel and director David Lean and the struggles which preceded the making of the film.

Overall:

A visually sublime, beautifully crafted and absorbing look at a controversial and fascinating period of history. The 189-minute running time may seem slightly daunting, but Nicholas and Alexandra proves a compelling, intelligent and rewarding piece of cinema, and now appears stronger than every courtesy of Twilight Time’s sumptuous and beautifully presented blu-ray release. With only 3,000 copies available, I suggest you acquire a copy as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.

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