Nicholas and Alexandra (1971): Oscar Nominated Historical Drama

Columbia (Horizon Pictures Production, UK)

One of two historical epics nominated for Best Picture Oscar in the l970s, Nicholas and Alexandra (l971) did not deserve nomination; the other was Kubrick’s masterpiece, “Barry Lyndon,” in 1975.

Director Franklin Schaffner, fresh off from his success with “Patton” the previous year, made a stale, uninvolving saga from James Goldman’s script, based on Robert K. Massie’s well-received novel. This lavish, overlong (183 minutes) tale meticulously reconstructed the last years of Russian tsarist history, centering on the last czar, Nicholas II (Michael Jayston), and his wife Alexandra (well-played by the British stage actress Janet Suzman, in an Oscar-nominated turn). However, despite the interesting political context and the tragic fate of the royalty, the central characters never came to life; curiously they were neither interesting nor moving.

Even the art direction and costumes, which won Oscars, were old-fashioned but not very imaginative. In the end, despite extensive publicity campaigns, Oscar nominations and two awards, the movie died at the box-office.

End Note

Some of the film’s secondary characters feature prominently in other Hollywood historical tales, such as “Rasputin” and “Anastasia,” in 1956, for which Ingrid Bergman won her second Best Actress Oscar.

Cast:

Nicholas Ii (Michael Jayston)
Alexandra (Janet Suzman)
Alexis 9Roderic Noble)
Olga (Ania Marson)
Tatiana (Lynne Frederick)
Marie (Candace Glendenning)
Anastasia (Fiona Fullerton)
Grand Duke Nicholas (Harry Andrews)
The Queen Mother (Irene Worth)
Rasputin (Tom Baker)

Oscar Nominations: 6

Picture, produced by Sam Spiegel
Actress: Janet Suzman
Art Direction-Set Decoration: John Box, Ernest Archer, Jack Maxsted, Gil Parrondo; Vernon Dixon
Cinematography: Freddie Young
Dramatic Score (Original): Richard Rodney Bennett
Costume Design: Yvonne Blake and Antonia Castillo

Oscar Awards: 2

Art Direction
Costume Design

Oscar Context

In 1971, Kubrick’s “Clockwork Orange” lost in each and every category to “The French Connection,” which won Best Picture, Best Director for William Friedkin, Best Screenplay for Ernest Tidyman, and Best Editing for Jerry Greenberg. The other three Best Picture nominees were Norman Jewison’s musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” Bogdanovich’s superb period small-town drama “The Last Picture Show,” and the old-fashioned historical epic “Nicholas and Alexandra.”

Oswald Morris won the Cinematography for “Fiddler on the Roof,” and Michel Legrand the Score award for “Summer of ’42.”