The Tsar of Russia, Nicholas Romanoff (Michael Jayston), and his wife Alexandra (Janet Suzman) seem to believe that God has done little for them, but they—the protagonists of Nicholas and Alexandra (1971)—have done little for the Russian peasants among sundry others. Nicholas concentrates on war, not dire poverty. Alexandra worries over her son with hemophilia, hoping for divine blessing through the strange Rasputin (Tom Baker), here plainly debauched. (But the boy does keep living.) The couple’s love for each other is contrasted with politically motivated hate, with rage at a poor leader, even though we are not shown much of Nicholas’s oppressive ways.

The director of Planet of the Apes and Patton, Franklin J. Schaffner, continued to prove his ambition and compelling direction, as in a soldiers-vs.-mob sequence, with this film. N&A is derived from a book by Robert Massie which I’ve never read, whereas the screenplay is by James Goldman and Edward Bond. It mostly succeeds, I think—the history is somewhat distorted—and turns Nicholas into a self-knowing tragic figure. Jayston enacts him well, and Suzman is solid, but how gratifying it is that the film offers more-familiar actors, including Laurence Olivier and John Wood, to shine in secondary roles.