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As noted in the Los Angeles Times review mentions, the film, which was over three hours in length, was shown without an intermission. A January 1968 Daily Variety item noted that producer Sam Spiegel had purchased the film rights to the best-selling Robert K. Massie book, Nicholas and Alexandra. George Stevens (1904-1975), who was originally scheduled to direct according to items from a February 1969 Hollywood Reporter, withdrew when production was delayed. Nicholas and Alexandra would have been the long-time director's last film. In October 1968 Spiegel announced that Anthony Harvey would direct the project, based on a screenplay by James Goldman, with whom Harvey had worked on the 1968 Embassy Production of The Lion in Winter, based on Goldman's play.
By February 1969, Hollywood Reporter announced that Harvey had left the production due to a scheduling conflict, and in November 1969, Spiegel signed Charles Jarrott to direct. Jarrott, a former television director, had made his feature film debut with the 1969 Universal production Anne of a Thousand Days, a period film about the relationship between England's King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. In early July 1970, Daily Variety reported that Jarrott was no longer with the production, and an undated Variety item indicated that British television and film director Jack Gold would take over the reins of Nicholas and Alexandra. A July 28, 1970 Daily Variety news item stated that Franklin J. Schaffner, Academy Award winning director for Twentieth Century-Fox's 1970 production of Patton, had been signed to direct. According to Filmfacts, Joseph Mankiewicz was under serious consideration for the film, and had met with Goldman, making copious notes on the script and on casting suggestions. A biography on Spiegel states that other directors considered before Shaffner included Ken Russell, Lindsay Anderson and John Boorman. The same source states that Vincent Korda worked as the production designer extensively during pre-production, but was replaced by John Box. A July 1970 article from Beverly Hills Citizen indicated that Spiegel requested permission from the Soviet government to film in the winter palace in the former St. Petersburg, then Leningrad, but was refused.
News items reveal the following information about the production: A November 1970 New York Times article alleged that Spiegel was hoping to cast Marlon Brando either in the role of "Lenin" or "Rasputin." A February 1971 item revealed that Peter O'Toole was originally cast as Rasputin, but upon withdrawing, was replaced by National Theatre actor Tom Baker. Spiegel's biography adds that Vanessa Redgrave and Katharine Hepburn were considered for "Alexandra," Rex Harrison was considered for "Witte" and Yul Brynner campaigned for the role of Rasputin. The final cast was predominantly British but also featured actors from South Africa (Janet Suzman), United States (Irene Worth) and Belgium (Jean-Claude Drouet). Numerous items announced that the production cost of Nicholas and Alexandra was expected to have a budget of between eight and nine million dollars. Jack Hawkins' voice was dubbed in the film, as the actor had lost his voice due to surgery for throat cancer. The film was shot on location in Spain.
Nicholas and Alexandra chronicles the final fourteen years of Imperial Russia before the 1917 revolution, which led to civil war, the assassination of the royal family and the creation of the Communist state, the Soviet Union, in 1922. Although the chronology of some events was changed for the dramatic continuity of the film, it is historically accurate in most aspects. As depicted in the film, Tsarevitch Alexis (or Alexei) was diagnosed in early infancy with hemophilia, an hereditary genetic illness that prevents blood from clotting. England's Queen Victoria passed the disease on through her son and various daughters to the royal houses in Germany, Spain and Russia. Empress Alexandra was the daughter of Victoria's daughter, Princess Alice, and, as the film notes, passed on the gene to her son Alexei. As depicted throughout Nicholas and Alexandra, Alexei's life-threatening illness as well as Alexandra's fanatical religious devotion to the holy man Grigori Rasputin, played a significant role in the collapse of Imperial Russia.
As shown in the film, as World War I began, Russia was filled with rumors that Alexandra and Rasputin were lovers, a suspicion also held by members of the government. This included Duma member Vladimir Purishkevich, who was not a character in the film, but who assisted Prince Felix Yussoupov and Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich in Rasputin's assassination. Although the film shows that Rasputin was affected by the potassium cyanide-laced cakes and wine, in reality they had no effect on him, forcing the panicked Yussoupov to shoot Rasputin two hours after they were consumed. The attack on Rasputin continued outside, not in the cellar as shown in the film, as the wounded man attempted to flee through the snow. Purishkevich then shot Rasputin twice, after which Yussoupov struck him repeatedly with a club. The men then rolled the body into a blue curtain, wrapped it with chains and dumped it into the partially frozen Neva River. Unmentioned in the film was an autopsy report that showed that Rasputin died not of his wounds, but from drowning.
Nicholas and Alexandra ends with the family's murders. The film includes Dr. Botkin in the massacre, but omits Alexandra's maid, Anna Dimadova, and two more servants who were killed with the Imperial family, footman Trupp and cook Kharitonov. The massacre was led not directly by Isiah Goloshechkin, as shown in the movie, but by Yakov Yurovsky. The Bolsheviks did not acknowledge that the entire Imperial family had been murdered until 1919. One of the most popular myths surrounding the mass execution of the Royal family, the last of the Romanov dynasty, was that one of their daughters, the Grand Duchess Anastasia, had somehow survived (other Romanov claimants appeared over the years, including an "Alexei"). For more information on Anastasia, see the entry for the 1956 Twentieth Century-Fox production Anastasia, which won Ingrid Bergman an Academy Award for the starring role, directed by Anatole Litvak. The release of Yurovsky's statement seventy-three years after the events provided details about the location of the Romanovs' remains, and in 1991 they were exhumed. The bodies of Alexei and one of the Grand Duchesses were missing. The Romanovs were re-interred in the Romanov family crypt in St. Petersburg in 1998, on the eightieth anniversary of their deaths.
Nicholas and Alexandra received Academy Awards for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design and nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Cinematography and Best Music (Original Dramatic Score). Modern sources add Robin Askwith, Bernabe Barta Barri, Frank Braa, Jeremy Brett, Don Jaime de Mora y Aragon to the cast but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.
Numerous films have been produced recounting portions of the lives of the Romanovs and Rasputin's influence on the Imperial family including the 1917 World Film production Rasputin, The Black Monk; First National's 1918 production The Fall of the Romanoffs; the 1933 M-G-M film Rasputin and the Empress, starring John Barrymore as Rasputin, Ethel Barrymore as Alexandra and Lionel Barrymore as "Prince Paul"; the 1956 German CCC Production Is Anna Anderson Anastasia?, starring Lilli Palmer; the above-mentioned Anastasia; the Twentieth Century-Fox 1966 production Rasputin, the Mad Monk (see below), starring Christopher Lee and the 1997 Twentieth Century-Fox animated feature film Anastasia, directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, with Meg Ryan providing the voice of Anastasia. Television films include Anastasia, The Mystery of Anna, a TV movie directed by Marvin Chomsky and starring Amy Irving, Olivia de Havilland and Omar Sharif and the 1996 HBO television production Rasputin, starring Alan Rickman in the title role.