Opening 2 Nov 2017
Sumptuousness, sovereigns, and sex, these are the perfect elements for an engaging period costume drama about Czar Nicholas II, the last czar of Russia. Nicholas (dashing German actor Lars Eidinger) as a twenty-two-year-old destined to become czar falls madly in love with the bewitching ballerina Matilda (Michalina Olszanska) much to the dismay of the royal family. His rival Count Vorontsov (Danila Kozlovsky) is also enraptured and endures death defying feats to make Matilda his own. In the meantime Nicholas’ family is planning his wedding to the German Princess Alix von Hessen-Darmstadt (fittingly played by the German actress Luise Wolfram) while simultaneously plotting to keep Matilda away from their son.
Director Aleksey Uchitel brilliantly captures the magic of the ballet performances at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. He audaciously films the ballerinas, dancing or just posing for a photograph, with Renoir-like reverence. He portrays a panorama of privileged life in lavish locations: in luxurious palaces, aboard the royal train, and in the cathedral for the czar’s coronation. Some settings are authentic and some reconstructed. To the viewer it all looks the same, the splendor/decadence of 20th century imperial opulence. Nothing was left up to chance, and more than 17 tons of fabric was used to create 5000 period costumes.
In Russia the filming of the Czar Nicholas II and his mistress Matilda has created quite an uproar. Some fanatical followers of the Russian Orthodox Church and fervent nationalist extremists have demanded the film be banned. Czar Nicholas was canonized by the church as recently as 2000. They consider it blasphemous to depict a saint as ever having had a premarital affair. Months of protest and the firebombing of Uchitel's St. Petersburg offices haven’t stopped the film from opening. As of this writing there was just a pre-release screening in Moscow with moviegoers only giggling as Matilda exposes her right breast. No one stormed out of the movie theater in righteous indignation. (Pat Frickey)