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Customer Review

222 of 228 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Making History Live, January 26, 2001
This review is from: Nicholas and Alexandra (DVD)
One of the most beautifully crafted and moody epics to come out of Hollywood (or, to be accurate, Britain), "Nicholas and Alexandra" has never acquired the reputation it deserves. Released at a time when big budget spectaculars were considered passé, hostile contemporary reviews have shaped the film's reputation. While hardly perfect, the film nonetheless provides a reasonably accurate, if politically conservative overview of pre-revolutionary Russia and does an excellent job of individualizing the two monarchs.
The two central, completely convincing performances are by relative unknowns Michael Jayston and Janet Suzman. Several first-rate actors (Laurence Olivier, Eric Porter, Ian Holm, Alan Webb, Harry Andrews, Irene Worth, Jack Hawkins, Michael Redgrave, John McEnery, Curt Jurgens and others) support them in small parts and manage to make us forget their familiar presences to concentrate on their characters. The actors are cushioned by Yvonne Blake and Antonio Castillo's lush costumes and Richard Rodney Bennett's symphonic score in an elegant jewelry box crafted by designer John Box, cinematographer Freddie Young and director Franklin Schaffner.
The film has two major failings. First, it is just a touch *too* sympathetic to the monarchs. Quite apart from the lack of any evaluation of their short-comings as leaders, there are too many scenes calculated, presumably (and questionably), to demonstrate Nicholas "learning" from his mistakes. Second, in the effort to dramatize a complex historical moment, there is simply too much of it. We jump from the Russo-Japanese War to the 1905 Russian Revolution to Stolypin's reforms, to Rasputin's influence, to the First World War, the Februrary Revolution, the October Revolution, and on and on. In this rush to include everything, little other than the monarchs' lives is dealt with in any depth and the efforts to depict the revolutionaries are particularly awkward.
One of the most notorious scenes in the film, commented upon by more than one contemporary review, is a brief early moment when Lenin says to a journalist, "Pay attention, you're about to see the birth of the Bolshevik party." That's about the level of the political evaluation, and one can understand why the scene, along with about ten minutes elsewhere, was cut in subsequent theatrical and video release. (On the other hand, the characterization of Lenin as an intolerant prig, however uncomprehending of his political ideas, does ring remarkably true.) The DVD restores these excisions. The transfer is considerably warmer than Columbia's previous video releases, and is 16:9 enhanced.
I recommend the disc to anyone interested in the subject or the capacity of films to make history live for audiences. Apparently like several other reviewers here, I first saw "Nicholas and Alexandra" in its initial theatrical release and loved it. I immediately read Massie's book after seeing it, which was the first step in what has proven a life-long interest in the period. Despite its failings, it is a testament to the film's power that it can exercise this level of fascination over viewers' imaginations.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 20, 2008 12:23:59 AM PDT
This was a wonderful review. Thank you.

Posted on Nov 5, 2014 8:27:49 PM PST
Sam Clemens says:
Honestly, I'm not sure what to make of this picture. As someone interested in Russian history, I found the concept intriguing, but the action seemed particularly sluggish and none of the characters were especially compelling or sympathetic. Instead of burning this to disc, I might just dump it from my satellite DVR. Perhaps I'll just collect the parts about the revolution and let the remainder go. I'm particularly interested in how the Bolsheviks betrayed the "real revolution" of the common people. Truly a disaster.

Yet, this watching this vehicle seems about as interesting as observing the grass grow on a spring's day. Lethargic or phlematic.
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Location: Rochester, NY, USA

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