Nicholas and Alexandra (1971)

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Nicholas and Alexandra details the collapse and eventual execution of the Romanov family.

I LOVE this film. I’m really enjoying the 1971 best picture nominees so far because the 4 that I’ve seen are all worthy of the best picture title. Yet I can say that out of all that I’ve seen (given I’ve already watched The French Connection before), this one is the most surprising and could be my personal favourite (not saying it is my choice for the win).

The strength in Nicholas and Alexandra lies in the technical department; a nomination for Franklin J. Schaffner’s direction would have been deserved, and I wouldn’t even mind a win. I largely prefer this to his Oscar winning effort in Patton the previous year. The story is well-told and handled; they selected the crucial elements of the true story without over-simplifying it, and as a result the film is gripping to watch. I never found myself annoyed by how repetitively incompetent Nicholas was because the film managed to capture the essence of what happened. Personally, history and politics are not my greatest interest areas, but the movie managed to blend in the right amount of politics and historical events without making it overwhelming to handle, which is a problem some period films face (Basically, if a history idiot like me understands and even enjoys it, you know it’s good). The part involving Lenin and the Bolsheviks isn’t my favourite portion but it was well used to contrast the eventual downfall of the Romanov’s reign, and I didn’t mind it at all. Still, the best parts are what happened within the family itself and how they eventually lost the power that was given to them. Some moments are so well-shot and intense that it was quite chilling, like the ending where it was debated whether the children should be executed as well (“It’s all of them” “I could have told you that”). I mean, I already had a rough idea of what happened during this tumultuous period as I did read up on this part of history before, and yet I was never bored for one second.

Other praiseworthy aspects of the film are the brilliant art direction and costume design. Seriously, those two wins are extremely deserved, and probably one of the finest I have seen in films (Barry Lyndon offers some serious competition). Of course, period films do have a advantage in this department, but I was extremely taken by how beautiful the set decorations and detailed the costume designs were, especially some of Janet Suzman’s dresses. The cinematography is breath-taking. It all feels very authentic and fitting to the mood of the film.

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The acting is very good, but in a movie like this they do get overshadowed by the strength of the film’s narrative and direction. They’re not really there to shine with scene-stealing moments, but rather to support the development of the film’s plot and tell the story, and that’s what’s exactly needed from them. Janet Suzman received a best actress nod that may have been deserved, but I would definitely not vote for her over Jane Fonda’s astounding performance in Klute (one of the finest in this category) as the role is a bit thin. Still, she had some great emotional moments like her love for her family and her guilt over her son’s haemophilia. I think Tom Baker would have deserve a nomination for his supporting performance as Rasputin though; he was pretty frightening and disgusting.

It’s all a matter of whether films like these appeal to you, and they do greatly to me. This is probably the most pleasant surprise to me and I know some may not share my enthusiasm but I think Nicholas and Alexandra is a truly terrific watch. 5/5.

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