Nicholas and Alexandra Reviews
Reasonably dynamic, with a broad scope, grand story and sprawling three-hour runtime, this film is indeed an epic, and with that said, the film does, in fact, find itself outstaying its welcome time and again, going bloated with excess material that is well-handled enough to where it's rarely all that disengaging, yet is still fairly glaring and slows down the momentum of a film that really only has so much momentum to begin with. The film has many a pick-up, yet all too often, not much happens in this film, which isn't a huge problem, as the writing and direction is strong enough to sustain your investment throughout this film, whether when it's picking up or simply continuing to be all talk, yet the fact of the matter is that a large chunk of this overlong film is much more bark than bite, with only so much bite to the expository barking (Development Dog! Sorry, I just couldn't help but think that). As you would probably imagine, it doesn't take long before repetition ensues, never to descend into monotony and rarely to repel you tremendously, but still plague the film with further steam loss, or at least emphasis on the film's often meandering along, repetitious or not. Again, the film's storytelling is generally quite strong, yet such strength often finds itself betrayed by much too much limiting in momentum, though it's not like more eventful storytelling was ever going to make this film that much stronger, because when things do happen, it's hard to deny that they seem fairly familiar. Though perhaps explored too often, stories of this nature are indeed very worthy, so it's not like I can say that I'm tired of films like this, and it helps that this film does have its share of unique touches, yet on the whole, this film follows a formula already pretty well-established by 1971, alone, and the final product's overall value further suffers for that reason. The film's missteps are indeed limited, yet they do stand, frequent and just potent to bite at the film's bite, little by little, until a film that could have really hit if it was tighter, meatier and more refreshing is left standing as, well, just another epic of its era. Of course, that's hardly a bad thing, as this film's generation was rich with strong epics, with this film being no exception, for although missteps stand, more pronounced are the strengths that power engagement value through and through for the audience, or at least for audience's the eyes.
Everyone of the '60s and '70s' favorite epic cinematographer, Freddie Young, shot this epic pretty much like he did with all of the others, delivering photography that isn't exactly too startlingly dazzling, or at least not by today's standards, yet still strikes with handsomely then-distinct coloring and lighting, as well as broad scope that further absorbs the environment beautifully and goes complimented by Richard Rodney Bennett's, albeit familiar, yet grandly broad and excellent score work. The scope of the cinematography certainly gives you a chance to step back and get a good look at the production designs, which are nothing short of excellent, reconstructing the final days of the Russian monarchy with intricate believability that captures environment, both royal and somewhat reflective of Russia's conflicts just before the 1920s, effectively and attractively. Like many a worthy epic of its type and era, the film is technically and artistically sharp, and such stylistic excellence brings much of this grand story to life, but what truly breathes life into the bonafide depths of this worthy story are the people in charge of crafting the story in the first place. This subject matter is rich with potential, presenting grand sweep, dramatic depth, more than a few dynamic layers and, altogether, challenges to a writer that, if overcome, could very well make for a powerfully rewarding effort, and when it comes down to final execution, screenwriter James Goldman makes his share of mistakes, keeping things a bit too loose and repetitious, as well as not quite as unique as they possibly could have been, and yet, on the whole, Goldman delivers on clever set pieces with enough color to somewhat obscure the potency of the repetition's disengagement, while structuring the story, not necessarily tightly or all that terribly comfortably, yet comfortably enough to make the many layers feel fairly organic, yet palpable enough to give the film just enough dynamicity to establish scope that would have been broader if there was much more dynamicity, but still stands quite compellingly firm. Goldman's execution of this worthy story stands to be more worthy by its own right, yet it's still strong enough to draw much from the compelling depths of the story concept, going best only by the thing that executes Goldman's screenplay itself, Franklin J. Schaffner's direction, which is also improvable, yet nevertheless very strong in a fashion that was, in some areas, ahead of the time, with graceful subtlety and depth that breathe much potency into the dramatic resonance, as well as with a consistent inspired livliness that keeps the film thoroughly entertaining, for although the film's storytelling does indeed meander, Schaffner keeps everything charged and engrossing enough for you to be kept going, enjoying yourself, throughout this three-hour opus, which goes further carried by the talents found on the screen, or at least most of them, as young Roderic Noble sometimes borders on terrible, being wooden and obnoxiously ineffective, with very few notes and a near-profound forcefulness behind what additional notes he attempts to crowbar into his performance, while most everyone else delivers his or her own kind of distinctive charisma that makes most every member of this heavily populated ensemble characters list fairly memorable, with the leads, of course, particularly standing out. Now, regardless of what the title might have you believe, this film is primarily centered around Tsar Nicholas II, individually, thus the titular Empress Alexandra finds herself occasionally underused, yet whenever she does arrive, Janet Suzman brings the powerful yet vulnerable woman to life with humanity and graceful layers, and when it comes to leading man Michael Jayston, he delivers on a presence of power, yet enough human vulnerability to open the doors to the effectiveness of the layers that Tsar Nicholas II found in his final days and make for a compelling lead. The film is with its shortcomings, there's no denying that, yet truly accels in the areas that it does, in fact, get right, and while such acceleration isn't quite enough to carry this film to its full potential, it carries the final product to a very rewarding state.
In the end, the final product faces shortcomings through some bloating excessiveness in material, as well as through what material there is having only so much bite and quite a bit of repetition that leaves the film to meander just enough for you to notice the originality limiting that makes the film an improvable one, yet certainly doesn't take away what makes the film so rewarding, whether it be the fine cinematography, score work and production designs that make the film technically and artistically sharp, or screenwriter James Goldman's generally strong structuring of the worthy story, which goes further brought to life by inspiration within both Franklin J. Schaffner's direction and most of the charismatic performances, thus leaving "Nicholas and Alexandra" to stand as an engrossing and thoroughly entertaining epic that stands reasonably worthy of the three hours it still too often meanders through.
3/5 - Good