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  1. #1
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    This is a favorite example of a favorite genre: the sweeping three-hour historical epics that used to appear on a regular basis when I was a boy in the late sixties and early seventies, and then vanished. The majority of them were British or at least a British co-production. My interest in British films started through them.



    The basis is the book by Robert K. Massie, which is well worth reading. I saw the film on a hot July day in a small suburban theatre in New Rochelle, just north of NYC. I can remember the day as if it were yesterday, although it was 1972. I was overwhelmed by this story of the last rulers of Russia, told on a vast scale and accumulating power as it moved to its terrible end. A film like that has to be seen on the large screen to be fully appreciated.



    I saw it again recently on DVD, and I did see many faults that had gone past me when I was thirteen. The script really isn't very imaginative or well written, and is certainly inferior to the book. The direction by Franklin J. Schaffner is a bit stodgy, and he was an excellent director on other films. The four Romanov daughters blend into each other and Tom Baker is not a convincingly demonic Rasputin.



    But this is definitely worth seeing for anyone who enjoys epics. After seeing the film, I found the book and from there became interested in Russian history. That has continued since.



    I later found out that Vanessa Redgrave and Rex Harrison were supposed to have the title roles, but there were scheduling conflicts. That was truly an opportunity missed. Janet Suzman and Michael Jayston do a fine job � but Vanessa Redgrave would have been ideal as Alexandra, a perfect piece of casting.



    The huge cast includes the usual list of first-rate actors in small roles � one of the true pleasures of these epics: Laurence Olivier, Irene Worth, Jack Hawkins, Michael Redgrave, John Wood, Ian Holm, Alan Webb, Curt Jurgens, Diana Quick, Julian Glover, Roy Doctrice, Harry Andrews.



    I suppose Guinness and Richardson were on sabbatical that month.



    I will also mention the excellent score by Richard Rodney Bennett.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Country: Wales David Challinor's Avatar
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    I agree Tim, it's a great book. Rarely do I make a case for the book over the film, however, but this is the case here. I read the book on a two-week holiday to St Lucia (!) and it is superb, especially it's ability to project its massive scope - Russia is a continent rather than a nation - and the amazing powers of Rasputin.

    The film is very enjoyable, and makes me wish David Jayston had more leading parts.

    It was edited a bit to take out one of the daughters in house-arrest showing herself naked to a revoltionary guard.

    I disagree about Tom Baker....who else could have played the mad monk?!?!??!!

  3. #3
    Senior Member Country: Aaland dremble wedge's Avatar
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    I can only concur regarding Massie's book, it's a fascinating read.



    Vanessa Redgrave would have been memorable but I thought Janet Suzman was excellent too. I'm afraid I have little time for Rex Harrison at the best of times but he would have been far too old for the Tsar here.



    I really like Tom Baker as Rasputin. I'm sure I read somewhere that Peter O'Toole was pencilled in for the part. I think Baker makes a better fist of it than Alan Rickman did in the 90s TV movie.

  4. #4
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    I was impressed with the film when I first saw it, but after taping it from TCM, was never able to get more than midway through. I thought Michael Jayston did a capital job as the ineffective, bumbling Nicholas. I also liked Roderic Noble, who played the Tsarevitch, but I don't think Alexis would ever have 'reprimanded' his father for abdicating for him. It's too bad the Grand Duke Nicholas couldn't have succeeded to the Russian Throne, but by then, it was too late.



    If the film were remade, now that the Russian palaces are available (the 1971 version used Rumanian locales), I think Brad Pitt (much as I dislike him) could play Nicholas II. He's still young enough to play Nicholas as a young man and the older Tsar as well.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Country: Wales David Challinor's Avatar
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    I like the Brad Pitt casting idea ...but who would play the Tsarian?

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Challinor
    I like the Brad Pitt casting idea ...but who would play the Tsarian?
    The only reason I suggest Pitt is because of his cheekbones. He seems to bear a superficial resemblance to the Tsar, at least to my mind. As for the Tsarina Alexandra, I have no idea. (Perhaps a younger version of Jane Seymour--Alexandra, who grew up under the care of her grandmother Queen Victoria, was a very attractive young princess.)



    But I doubt if I would see any remake anyway. I was first introduced to the Romanov tragedy when I was in the seventh grade, via Richard Haliburton's Seven League Boots. Haliburton's still a good read, although he's largely forgotten today.



    History's full of what-if's. If only Alexander II could have lived to promulgate his ideas of an English-type constitutional monarchy. If one is to be a autocrat, it has to be in the vein of a Catherine the Great or Peter I--not Nicholas II.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Challinor
    I agree Tim, it's a great book. Rarely do I make a case for the book over the film, however, but this is the case here. I read the book on a two-week holiday to St Lucia (!) and it is superb, especially it's ability to project its massive scope - Russia is a continent rather than a nation - and the amazing powers of Rasputin.
    Have you read Massie's other books? He has written an outstanding biography of Peter the Great.



    The film is very enjoyable, and makes me wish David Jayston had more leading parts.

    It was edited a bit to take out one of the daughters in house-arrest showing herself naked to a revoltionary guard.

    I disagree about Tom Baker....who else could have played the mad monk?!?!??!!
    Well, Rasputin is a very difficult part to cast. Baker is convincing in the scenes where he meets with Alexandra in the beginning, and is the right physical type. But he is far too reasonable and moderate. Have you seen photos of the real Rasputin? He really does look like someone who might help destroy an empire.



    Jack Nicholson might have done the job. He is certainly convincingly crazy.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dremble wedge
    I can only concur regarding Massie's book, it's a fascinating read.

    Vanessa Redgrave would have been memorable but I thought Janet Suzman was excellent too. I'm afraid I have little time for Rex Harrison at the best of times but he would have been far too old for the Tsar here.
    Janey Suzman did a very find job. It's surprising that she didn't do more after that.



    I think Vanessa Redgrave would have been ideal because Alexandra had a fanatical side; her obsessive belief in Rasputin and her manipulation of the government make for fascinating reading, but were disastrous for Russia. Vanessa Redgrave has a larger-than-life quality and she seems genuinely eccentric.



    Suzman is beautiful and dignified, but she - like Tom Baker - are too reasonable. Their actions seem at times unrelated to the events they helped cause.



    I thought Irene Worth was a good choice for the empress dowager. On a side note, I was not sure if she was American, English, Canadian or something else. I don't know how she seems to a Brit, but to me she is perhaps the only American actor or actress who I would not have assumed was American.



    I do agree about Rex Harrison in general - and you're right about the age. I think it is an interesting thought because Harrison suprised me by the depth of his performance in Cleopatra. (He and Roddy McDowell were the only things worth preserving from that ludicrous mess )





    I really like Tom Baker as Rasputin. I'm sure I read somewhere that Peter O'Toole was pencilled in for the part. I think Baker makes a better fist of it than Alan Rickman did in the 90s TV movie.
    Rickman! I didn't see him. I can't imagine it.



    There is an old MGM film called Rasputin and the Empress. Lionel Barrymore hams it up as Rasputin, and is impressively weird, but still too civilized. It realy is difficult to cast.



    As for O'Toole - now that is an opportunity missed. Maybe Richard Burton?

  9. #9
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gary D.
    I was impressed with the film when I first saw it, but after taping it from TCM, was never able to get more than midway through. I thought Michael Jayston did a capital job as the ineffective, bumbling Nicholas. I also liked Roderic Noble, who played the Tsarevitch, but I don't think Alexis would ever have 'reprimanded' his father for abdicating for him. It's too bad the Grand Duke Nicholas couldn't have succeeded to the Russian Throne, but by then, it was too late.



    If the film were remade, now that the Russian palaces are available (the 1971 version used Rumanian locales), I think Brad Pitt (much as I dislike him) could play Nicholas II. He's still young enough to play Nicholas as a young man and the older Tsar as well.
    Brad Pitt?



    Really?



    He is a good actor, but can he play a European aristocrat, born in the nineteenth century? I find it doubtful.



    There are very few American actors or actresses who have the gravity and the reserve and the depth necessary to play that sort role. We are an extroverted nation (for better or worse...) and it is unusual to find a performer who can convey an intense inner life. There were some in the past: Stewart and maybe Cooper and Tracy. But even they were not believable playing anything other than Americans.



    And Nicholas was remarkably lacking in charisma. His wife had more than enough for both of them. His diary entries consisted of: "A spell of rain today. Lunch with the ambassador..." - while his world was crashing around his ears.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by TimR
    Brad Pitt?

    Really?



    He is a good actor, but can he play a European aristocrat, born in the nineteenth century? I find it doubtful.



    There are very few American actors or actresses who have the gravity and the reserve and the depth necessary to play that sort role. We are an extroverted nation (for better or worse...) and it is unusual to find a performer who can convey an intense inner life. There were some in the past: Stewart and maybe Cooper and Tracy. But even they were not believable playing anything other than Americans.



    And Nicholas was remarkably lacking in charisma. His wife had more than enough for both of them. His diary entries consisted of: "A spell of rain today. Lunch with the ambassador..." - while his world was crashing around his ears.


    Whatever I think of Brad Pitt personally, he could play Nicholas II--and I stand by that. At first I thought you were a Brit with your statement about 'There are very few American actors or actresses who have the gravity and the reserve and the depth necessary to play that sort role.' I hold British actors in high regard, but don't forget we produce some excellent ones as well.



    I hate these sweeping statements.

  11. #11
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gary D.
    Whatever I think of Brad Pitt personally, he could play Nicholas II--and I stand by that. At first I thought you were a Brit with your statement about 'There are very few American actors or actresses who have the gravity and the reserve and the depth necessary to play that sort role.' I hold British actors in high regard, but don't forget we produce some excellent ones as well.



    I hate these sweeping statements.
    En garde!



    No one on this forum has ever assumed I was a Brit before.



    Cool your jets there, Gary old man.



    My statement had nothing to do with the quality of American actors.



    I made a point, and I hold to it, that the emphasis on action - on forward thinking, outgoing behavior and an emphasis on activity - can produce limitations for American actors and actresses. That is not a limitation they share as people, but because of American life and the requirements of American film. As a result, our historical epics are rarely as absorbing or as character-driven as the ones made by the Brits, or the French or the Germans or the Italians or the Russians.



    Two other exceptions I can think of are Marlon Brando and Orson Welles (and, indeed, a young and thin Orson Welles might have been a fine Nicholas ). Both were brilliant, highly intelligent men and both of them paid a price for refusing to play typical roles and emphasize depth and introspection.



    Joseph Cotton, one of my favorite actors, never made it to the top, although he had a productive career. He did not have the intensity, charisma and excitement of a man of action.



    And i stand by what I said about Americans playing Europeans. It can happen, but it is very unusual.



    I cannot see most American actors in Nicholas and Alexandra in any role. That is hardly a problem. I would not want to see Jeremy Irons or Michael Caine or David Niven or Peter O'Toole in the roles played by Paul Newman or Robert Redford or Robert De Niro! There really is a difference.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by TimR
    En garde!

    * * * our historical epics are rarely as absorbing or as character-driven as the ones made by the Brits, or the French or the Germans or the Italians or the Russians.

    .
    This seems to be about as much of your retort that I can't argue with. I think the British, especially, are more careful with biographies of their history than we are. I can't get through most American 'biographies' made, particularly, during the 1950s. I fast-forwarded through The Long Grey Line, even with Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara in it, and have halted just as young Robert Francis comes in. He was, tragically, to meet his death, at 25, very soon because he recklessly decided to fly an airplane.



    In doing some research on IMDb, I found the facts and chronology were totally twisted. Tyrone Power wasn't right for the role either.



    I am not suggesting Johnny Depp for Nicholas II, but Depp is truly a man of a thousand faces--and parts--from Gilbert Grape to Ed Wood.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gary D.
    This seems to be about as much of your retort that I can't argue with.
    Well then - where's your response (retort) to everything else that you disagree with? I enjoy these discussions.

    I think the British, especially, are more careful with biographies of their history than we are. I can't get through most American 'biographies' made, particularly, during the 1950s. I fast-forwarded through The Long Grey Line, even with Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara in it, and have halted just as young Robert Francis comes in. He was, tragically, to meet his death, at 25, very soon because he recklessly decided to fly an airplane.

    In doing some research on IMDb, I found the facts and chronology were totally twisted. Tyrone Power wasn't right for the role either.
    I enjoyed that film - as fiction. I agree about the comments regarding its historicity.



    I am not suggesting Johnny Depp for Nicholas II, but Depp is truly a man of a thousand faces--and parts--from Gilbert Grape to Ed Wood.
    A talented actor, yes - although I can't sit through his films.



    And he plays Americans.



    Thank you for providing evidence for my argument.....



    What about Jessica Lange as Alexandra? I could see her in the role.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Country: UK CaptainWaggett's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TimR

    A talented actor, yes - although I can't sit through his films.



    And he plays Americans
    Americans like Sweeney Todd and and the Earl of Rochester and JM Barrie?



    Do we really think that only a Brit could play a Russian? I know Nicholas II did speak very good English but I bet it wasn't with a BBC accent!

  15. #15
    Senior Member Country: Europe
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    Quote Originally Posted by TimR
    I thought Irene Worth was a good choice for the empress dowager. On a side note, I was not sure if she was American, English, Canadian or something else. I don't know how she seems to a Brit, but to me she is perhaps the only American actor or actress who I would not have assumed was American.


    Irene Worth was American and became a classical stage actress in both the US and UK. She joined the RSC and played the major Shakespearean roles. She was a great buddy of John Gielgud - when they did Oedipus at the Old Vic it created huge controversy as she committed suicide by impaling herself on a giant phallus.



    Olivier was horrified!

  16. #16
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CaptainWaggett
    Americans like Sweeney Todd and and the Earl of Rochester and JM Barrie?
    You're correct. I was referring to Gary's examples, but I stand corrected on his other films. He has played others besides Americans...



    still can't stand the fellow, though. How on earth did he ever becomes a successful actor?



    Sorry - that's not the topic of this thread.....



    Do we really think that only a Brit could play a Russian?
    Only a Brit?



    No - I would say that British actors and actresses have an impressive history of playing roles in historical epics.



    But they are not the only ones. In fact, I would say that Max Von Sydow or Marlon Brando might have done an outstanding job in the role of Nicholas.



    But I do hold to my view that most of the Americans who have been most successful have been uniquely American types, and that our way of life emphasizes the present as opposed to the past (I do dislike that personally). As a result there are relatively few historical epics that emphasize character made in the US. Those are my favorite type of film, and I would like to see more.



    I know Nicholas II did speak very good English but I bet it wasn't with a BBC accent!
    I would disagree with you there.



    Nicholas was almost entirely Danish and German in descent and learned languages in atmosphere that was more strongly based in western Europe than in Russia. Many of his personal letters are in English and are fluent, and filled with the pre-1914 speech of that period in England.



    And Alexandra was Queen Victoria's grand-daughter.

  17. #17
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gazza
    Irene Worth was American and became a classical stage actress in both the US and UK. She joined the RSC and played the major Shakespearean roles. She was a great buddy of John Gielgud - when they did Oedipus at the Old Vic it created huge controversy as she committed suicide by impaling herself on a giant phallus.



    Olivier was horrified!




    I would be horrified too!



    She was excellent in Nicholas and Alexandra. She has a small role (too small) as the Empress Dowager and she creates a fully developed character of a powerful, shrewd woman who disliked Alexandra.

  18. #18
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    I just came across my very old brochure from this film when it was first released.



    It premiered here in the US at the Criterion theatre in NYC where so many of the epics were shown. It was shown on a "roadshow" basis, with reserved seating and an intermission and and a full-color brochures. Very nice.



    The cover has the Romanov eagle and a photo of Michael Jayston and Janet Suzman leaving the court. The booklet is quite detailed. Those were the days of the great epics!



    I also have the brochures from Young Winston, Fiddler on the Roof and A Man for All Seasons.

  19. #19
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    I would like to give this thread some new life with these two clips from YouTube.



    Here is an original film sequence from the coronation of Nicholas and Alexandra in 1896. I have this as part of a documentary called Last of the Tsars, but I had not seen it here before:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNWRytQhx6c


    Here are the opening credits with Richard Rodney Bennett's moving score:



    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKNHu-Ymkcg

  20. #20
    Senior Member Country: England
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    Assistant art director was Ferdinand Bellan...a great artist who worked on many of Korda's movies...he got a credit on The Third Man even though he never wanted credit for anything he did.

    I have over my fireplace one of his huge colour drawings from Nicholas & Alexandra (given to me by his Son)...one of the last films Ferdinand worked on. Thought I should mention a talented man, who seems to have been forgotten.

    Film Man.

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