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The Russian Saint And His Mistress

Kristina Stöckl writes about an interesting controversy in Russia involving an upcoming feature film: [1]

For those readers who may not have followed the events: Matilda is a historical movie about the love affair of the future Tsar Nicholas II with the ballet dancer Matilda Kschessinka. The film covers the time span from 1890 until 1896 and does not touch Nicholas II’s rule and his death, when, along with his family, he was killed by Bolsheviks in 1918. The whole family was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in 1981 and by the Russian Orthodox Church in 2000. Even before reaching Russian cinemas, the film about the last Tsar’s pre-marital affair has stirred heated controversies. Conservative Orthodox believers called the film “blasphemous,” because the pre-release trailer shows the Russian ruler and future saint in sex scenes and emotional turmoil over his romantic love for the ballet dancer and his raison d’etat-marriage with Princess Alexandra of Hesse.

She compares the Matilda controversy to the 2012 Pussy Riot case:

In both cases, the critics bemoan the “insult of religious feelings”. But what is so special about the feelings of Orthodox believers for their rulers? How are we to make sense of this panic over lèse-majesté (“injured majesty,” the insulting of a monarch), over the violation of the dignity of the sovereign, as a form of blasphemy?

From the perspective of Orthodox believers, the Pussy Riot controversy had a tragic political dimension. The event posed the question whether the language of political protest could have a place inside their Church. Many Orthodox believers probably felt that, in principle, it should, but few could support the kind of articulation staged by the rebellious performers. Some, like Diakon Kuraev, tried to find a way around it by arguing that the incidence had taken place in the week of Russian Carnival. The tragic dimension of the controversy and court trial following the group’s performance lay precisely in the alienation of those open-minded Orthodox believers who felt that, at the end of the day, maybe some criticism of close church-state relations was not entirely out of place. Whoever did not feel offended in his or her religious feelings, such was the message at the court trial, was not a true Orthodox believer [2]. (Also for the convicted women and their families the consequences of the performance were tragic, however, my point here is about the Orthodox believers.)

A couple of thoughts from me, an Orthodox Christian.

First, though it apparently doesn’t matter under Russian law, as a moral issue, I see this film and Pussy Riot’s performance as substantially different. The punk band went into a church and invaded an altar to make a political statement.  [3] That is sacred space, period. Had they done this on the street, no problem. This is not the same thing as this film, morally speaking. It may be hard to convey fully to Western Christians how sacred Russian Orthodox believers hold their churches, especially their altars. Personally, I would find it inappropriate, but not blasphemous, if an anti-Putin protester held up a sign inside the cathedral. But if you watch the video, these three women acted in a manner that disrespected not Putin (who cares about that?), but the Mother of God and ultimately the sanctity of the Cathedral.

Second, it seems to me that Orthodox critics of the movie have a very weak case. It may or may not be a tasteless film, but a movie that shows a Tsar having a love affair that he actually did have can hardly be considered blasphemous, especially given that Nicholas II was given sainthood for the way he died (executed, along with his family, by the Bolsheviks). The memory of the tsar-saint does not need to be protected from filmmakers, especially if the story they tell is essentially true (that she was his mistress, which she indeed was). To repeat: Nicholas Romanov is not a saint because of the way he lived, but because of the way he died. If you read Robert Massie’s excellent history Nicholas and Alexandra, the execution scene will bring you to tears. I had not realized how bravely the Tsar and his wife and children lived in captivity, awaiting their execution.

Third, the memory of Tsar Nicholas II does not belong to Orthodox believers. He was the Tsar of all Russia. Nor does the historical truth belong only to those who wish to remember it a certain way.

I wish the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution were being marked by a different film, but that’s neither here nor there. Next year is the centennial of the Romanov family’s execution. I hope the Russian film industry tells the story of the royal family’s captivity and death at the hands of those demons. I am reading The Gulag Archipelago now, so you can imagine where my imagination is regarding the evil of Soviet communism.

38 Comments (Open | Close)

38 Comments To "The Russian Saint And His Mistress"

#1 Comment By Jeremy Hickerson On October 12, 2017 @ 1:45 pm

Sometimes I get mad at you, or get tired of forcing myself to always hear your viewpoint, which can be pretty militant, on issues where I disagree. I think about just not reading the blog anymore – I have been reading somewhat out of duty, to make sure I hear a differing, yet intellectually honest viewpoint (to be fair, you sometimes have brilliant, moving, and heartfelt posts – and these also motivate me to read.)

Then you do an honest, somewhat-against-the-grain post like this one, or like the defense of Harvey Weinstein’s work (Karl Ove Knausgaard caught some grief for trying to give Hitler a fair shake as an artist, prior to his being “Hitler”), and I remember yet another reason why I read this blog. Well done!

#2 Comment By KD On October 12, 2017 @ 1:59 pm

I wonder when they come out with the movie on Justinian I.

#3 Comment By DM On October 12, 2017 @ 2:49 pm

I assume he was canonized as a martyr and not as an example of chastity.

#4 Comment By Dn. Christopher Grant On October 12, 2017 @ 2:58 pm

The objection really isn’t to the idea that Nicholas II may have had a romantic relationship with this dancer (we know he did). The objection is to the fictional denigration of his relationship with his wife. His Eminence, Bishop Tikhon of Egorievsk has a very even toned response to the film here: [4]

#5 Comment By John On October 12, 2017 @ 3:03 pm

Many great saints were sinners before getting on the road to sainthood. For example, St. Augustine. Does not seem troubling that the czar committed grave sins 20 years prior to his execution. I imagine the intervening years offered many opportunities for repentence.

#6 Comment By charles cosimano On October 12, 2017 @ 3:34 pm

It sounds like the Orthodox critics have learned much from Comrade Stalin, unfortunately in the process making the Orthodox look really bad.

#7 Comment By BlairBurton On October 12, 2017 @ 4:05 pm

As Robert Massie and others make clear, the Empress Alexandra was the love of Nicholas II’s life, though he certainly did have an affair with dancer Matilda Kschessinka prior to his marriage; it was rather a case of his father Alexander III arranging for her to, shall we say, school the Tsarevich.

Nicholas’s marriage to Alexandra was hardly a matter of state despite what Kristina Stöckl writes, as neither of his parents wanted him to marry Alix of Hesse, a minor German princess whose shy and introverted personality made her ill-suited to be Tsarina (the threat of her being a carrier of hemophilia was not a factor, as its genetic component was little understood then). She was also a devout Lutheran who did not want to become Orthodox, a requirement for the Tsar’s wife. But Nicholas and Alix had been in love for some years, even during his affair with the ballerina, and he eventually overcame his parents’ doubts and was given permission to propose to Alix, and with the help of her sister Ella, who was married to Nicholas’s uncle Serge and who had voluntarily converted to Orthodoxy, Alix finally agreed to convert and to marry Nicholas. He also confessed his affair to Alix, who forgave him nobly.

[NFR: Nicholas really did love Alexandra. That Massie book is amazing. — RD]

#8 Comment By Kirt Higdon On October 12, 2017 @ 4:23 pm

I saw a very good movie about St. Augustine, which included a lot about his mistress. No sex scenes though. There may be a legitimate objection to the sex scenes if they are pornographic.

#9 Comment By JCM On October 12, 2017 @ 4:43 pm

I agree that in their death the Romanoff’s showed a saintly nobility that warrants the affection and reverence so many have for them.

In the same manner, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (who quite arguably suffered more in the hands of their murderers than the Russian Imperial Family) also showed their “stuff” at the end.

Marie-Antoinette, apologizing to her executioner just moments before being beheaded for having accidently touched his shoe with hers, is the ultimate in both humility and noblesse oblige.

For political reasons, the causes of Louis and his sister Madame Elizabeth never took off. But next time you are in France visit their graves at St. Denis.

#10 Comment By William Tighe On October 12, 2017 @ 7:15 pm

“For political reasons, the causes of Louis and his sister Madame Elizabeth never took off. But next time you are in France visit their graves at St. Denis.”

And also the Chapelle Expiatoire:

[5]

#11 Comment By CP On October 12, 2017 @ 7:42 pm

Rod, I’ve read this blog for a long time, and I think your posts (and your commenters’) about our cultural situation are some of the most insightful out there. Whether I agree (usually) or disagree, I recognize the integrity of your thought. But your take on this topic appears off base, which is understandable if you’ve relied on the article linked above to form your opinion.

As a fellow Orthodox Christian and admirer of the Tsar-Martyr, I have followed the controversy surrounding this film over the past several weeks, enough to have a read on it. Your opinion that the “memory of the tsar-saint does not need to be protected from filmmakers”–that the Russian Orthodox Church and those who share its position are upset because the film shows events that reflect negatively on Tsar Nicholas–entirely misses the point. The problem is that, though it uses the names of historical persons, the film is a fictionalized story that slanders the reputation of the Tsar and others. As you know from Massie’s book, the Tsar was totally devoted to his wife, Alexandra. After his engagement, he cut off all communication with the ballerina, Kschessinska, and was not of two minds about his marriage. This is not what the film portrays. You should also know that the actor who portrays Tsar Nicholas has appeared in pornographic films.

Those who would shift our focus from the dishonesty and vulgarity of the film to the violent actions of a few extremists to taint the broader opposition are using the familiar tactics of the left in this country. Pick your issue–guns, abortion, etc.

It’s sad that after having their reputation tarnished for so long by the Bolsheviks and their allies, there are still those who would do the same to the Royal Martyrs.

#12 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 12, 2017 @ 10:41 pm

Nicholas and his family were killed by a local committee of the Socialist-Revolutionist party … the same party Kerensky formally belonged to, although many were happy to participate in the post-October revolution, also the same party that included the woman who attempted to assassinate Lenin… probably hastening Stalin’s takeover. The Bolsheviks had a military detachment bringing them to Moscow, where Bloody Nicholas would undoubtedly have been tried and executed, perhaps the Czarina also, but the children would likely have been spared. The S-R’s intercepted the train because they wanted to do things their own way.

Canonizing any of them was pure Cosimanian Orthodoxy. The Czarina was about as saintly as Mephistopheles, Nicholas was at best an incompetent fool trying to function as an autocrat, and the children I suppose could be considered holy innocents, but not because of any notable piety.

Marie Antoinette should have apologized to the people of Paris, not to her executioner. So typical of the nobility… touching a shoe is a more grave offense than telling starving people that if they have no bread, they should eat cake.

#13 Comment By Tom the First On October 12, 2017 @ 10:57 pm

Note to readers: There’s a 1971 film, “Nicholas and Alexandra,” based on Robert k. Massie’s book, which was critically well-received, and gets good reviews on IMDB and Amazon. It’s available on DVD.

#14 Comment By stephen cooper On October 13, 2017 @ 12:30 am

For the record, the Romanoff tsars were not “Russian”: they were Russian Orthodox, but not exactly Russian – and the Romanoff family was almost always honest about that, I think I am not saying anything that they would not have gladly agreed with . Anyway, I have lived in Russia, and I speak and read Russian, and I wonder: of the millions of stories that could be told about fascinating events in the lives of the hundreds and thousands of Russian saints whose stories have been preserved for history (not to mention all the anonymous ones…), why tell this sordid story focusing on the early years of a future saint who failed through the weakness of the flesh when young, and of the woman whom he led into sin, while at the same time failing his future beloved wife, and failing his beloved Lord? I am with the people who say this movie should not have been made. The man was martyred – murdered by evil angry people – and was made to understand, day after day, in the weeks preceding his martyrdom, that his beloved wife and child would similarly be martyred, cruelly murdered by people with hatred in their heart for Christians. Can you imagine? So here we are, a generation or two later, in a world where it is easy to be Christian, and what do we do = we produce and celebrate a stupid frivolous movie about his boring human weakness when he was young, as if that is what is worth writing about in the life of a saint. Heartbreaking for us, when you think about it: the saints watch over us, however, and pray for us. So there’s that.

#15 Comment By dominic1955 On October 13, 2017 @ 1:37 am

Or you get a Saint Emperor without baggage of that sort like our Karl of Austria-Hungary.

That said, I don’t deny he died heroically. I think he did. Ultimately it matters how you ended up, not necessarily what you did in between.

#16 Comment By Varghese On October 13, 2017 @ 2:12 am

I recommend reading an article from someone knowledgeable about Russian history.

[Russian Orthodox] Bishop Tikhon of Egorievsk, “Mathilde: Time to Re-evaluate the History of the Royal Family”
[4]

“And now, on the anniversary of the Russian revolution there appears a film with, again, an obvious lie. And the fabrication concerns, alas, the personal life of Nicholas II and his relationship with his wife, the empress Alexandra Feodorovna. Even in soviet times no self-respecting researcher subjected this theme to falsifications in favor of an ideological state of affairs. Today, in this given question we see, perhaps, the only case of complete agreement among historians of diametrically opposed convictions, schools, and orientations: All agree that the relationship between Nicholas Alexandrovich and Alexandra Feodorovna was filled with the highest love, absolute fidelity, responsibility, tenderness, and care. No one or anything, nor any of the most terrible, inconceivable trials which befell this family could shake their striking depth and strength of feeling.

But what about Mathilde Kschessinskaya? More often than not, critics of the film are accused of denying the very fact of the romantic relations of the heir and the young dancer. In fact, this is a distortion. No one denies that that there really were such relations.

The heir, who was then twenty-two years old, met the eighteen-year-old Mathilde Felixovna Kschessinskaya in a very difficult period in his life: The girl whom he had wholeheartedly fallen in love with forever at first sight, the Hesse-Darmstadt princess Alice (who became his wife a few years later—the empress Alexandra Feodorovna), had recently rejected him, as she found it impossible to change her religion—to convert from Protestantism to Orthodoxy, the latter of which she had only the vaguest idea.

Meanwhile, it [conversion to Orthodoxy] was obligatory for the future tsarina according to Russian imperial law; besides, his father, Alexander III, strongly opposed his son’s choice.
The emperor had different views on the heir’s marriage.

And so, rejected by his beloved and having received a strict admonition from his father on the impossibility of his desired marriage, Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich allowed himself to fall in love with this talented ballerina. What kind of relationship did they have? Some historians say that these young people were very close. Others claim their connection was purely platonic. Whatever it was, in the end, is none of our business. They communicated from 1892 to 1894. In the spring of 1894 Princess Alice finally agreed to become Nicholas’ wife; Alexander III gave his agreement to their wedding. Nicholas Alexandrovich was immensely happy. Breaking up with Mathilde went without drama and tears: He asked her forgiveness and promised to help her with everything. They decided to always remain sincere friends, speaking with one another on friendly terms… But communication by correspondence. Their communication was broken off once and for all in the same year, 1894, that he became engaged, and then was the wedding of Nicholas and Alexandra.

Nicholas considered it his duty to tell his fiancée about Mathilde. This is what Alix wrote to her fiancé after this difficult confession: “I love you even more now that you have told me this story. Your trust touches me very deeply… Will I be worthy of it?”

The period from 1894—when princess Alice was in Russia, converted to Orthodoxy, got married to Nicholas II, and became the empress of all Russia—to 1896, where the film ends, was the most serene and happy in the life of the young married couple.

But what happens in this film presented to the public as nothing more or less than “the year’s major historical blockbuster?” This whole time in the film Nicholas is thrown about in sufferings, hysteria, and in intimate scenes from Mathilde to Alexandra, from Alexandra to Mathilde…”

#17 Comment By Varghese On October 13, 2017 @ 2:28 am

Rod, do you know for a fact that the relationship between Nicholas and Matilda was sexual? This is a matter of dispute. (Curiously, even some Communist historians say that the Western speculation regarding the relationship is over-the-top.) If you don’t, you should qualify the language used in this post.

#18 Comment By MrsDK On October 13, 2017 @ 5:35 am

The 1972 film Nicholas and Alexandra, based on Massie’s book, is historically accurate and glorious.

#19 Comment By Uncle Billy On October 13, 2017 @ 7:15 am

The Tsar had a mistress, which was wrong, but common among royalty of that time. Human beings have flaws, which religious fanatics of all denominations seem to be unable to deal with. Another flaw was Nicholas’s indifference to the sufferings of his people. That being said, I would bet that after a few years of the rule of the Bolsheviks, people recalled the Tsar more fondly.

#20 Comment By Steve On October 13, 2017 @ 7:24 am

As BlairBurton correctly notes, Nicholas had wanted to marry Alexandra for years but his parents were opposed to the marriage and only gave in when Alexander III’s health began to decline. Nicholas’ mother, the formidable Marie Feodorovna, was strongly opposed because she sensed — correctly — that Alexandra’s shyness, unease in public situations and tendency toward reclusiveness would be a very bad fit for the highly social position of Tsarina of Russia. And, as history played out, Marie was absolutely correct in her analysis. Alexandra drifted into a netherworld of reclusiveness and took Nicholas with her.

Whatever else Nicholas may have been, he was completely devoted and faithful to Alexandra throughout the entirety of their marriage. Any suggestion that he was “torn” between Alexandra and Kschessinska falls into the realm of Romanov fan fiction.

Kschessinska’s story itself would make for a great movie. Once Nicholas broke things off with her, she entered into a highly unorthodox (no pun intended!) situation with two Romanov Grand Dukes, Sergei and Andrei. There was a child born during this period but no one was quite sure who the father was. Kschessinska survived the Revolution and lived a very long life teaching ballet in Paris. (The great Margot Fonteyn was one of her students.) To his credit, Grand Duke Andrei, who also survived the Revolution, married her once they were living in France. Sadly, Grand Duke Sergei was not so fortunate. The Bolshevik’s murdered him along with Alexandra’s sister, the Grand Duchess Elizabeth (Ella) and four Romanov princes in 1918.

If anyone is looking for a good read about the events leading up to the Revolution, I highly recommend Maurice Paleologue’s An Ambassador’s Memoirs. Paleologue was the French ambassador to the Imperial court during World War I and he kept a day-by-day diary of events as Russia slid into the abyss. He knew everyone and he gives a very clear-eyed account how Nicholas and Alexandra’s various failings, which would have been harmless in her native Hesse, contributed to the rise of the “Rasputin gang” (as he calls the circle around Nicholas and Alexandra) and the subsequent collapse.

#21 Comment By CatherineNY On October 13, 2017 @ 8:28 am

I loved Nicholas and Alexandra when I read it, many years ago, but Massie (who was sympathetic to the couple because he had a son with hemophilia) really does whitewash N&A in many respects. He was also missing all the information that came out of the archives after the fall of the Soviet Union. I recommend the books of Helen Rappaport (who is, in full disclosure, a friend) to find an empathetic, yet more balanced perspective, and one informed by the most recent materials available. Her book on the four daughters of N&A was (deservedly!) on the NY Times bestseller list, and her book Ekaterinburg: The Last Days of the Romanovs will fill in the details of their imprisonment and murder at the hands of the Bolsheviks. She has a new one coming out soon on the various failed efforts to rescue the Tsar and his family. Details of her books here: [6]

#22 Comment By Jack B. Nimble On October 13, 2017 @ 9:15 am

The story of Nicholas Romanov and his family is certainly tragic, but are there any lessons for us 100 years later?

Nicholas was a weak and stubborn leader who was convinced that he could fight the war better than his generals. He feuded constantly with the elected assembly [Duma], and continually hired and fired administrators – who he didn’t listen to in any case. Hmmmm….

So the Russian people were certainly justified in removing Nicholas from power, although that of course is not a justification for political murder.

Here’s a little context:

The British govt. in 1917 first offered and then withdrew the possibility of asylum for Nicholas and his family, fearing public reaction at home. None of the other allies, including France or Canada, was willing to offer asylum either.

In July 1918, the month that the Romanovs were killed, Pres. Wilson unwisely agreed to send US troops to fight against the Bolsheviks, at the urging of the French and British. According to Wikipedia, 5,000 US Army troops were sent to Arkhangelsk while another 8,000 soldiers were shipped to Vladivostok.

Do you think that the Bolsheviks were worried that the Romanovs, while alive, could serve as a rallying point for the anti-Bolshevik forces and their foreign helpers? Some of the foreign plotters were actively seeking to restore the monarchy.

Bottom Line: While not complicit in the execution-style murder of the Romanovs, the main WWI allies [Britain, US, France] certainly help seal their fate through all their political and military maneuvering in 1917-1918. Ultimately, Nicholas Romanov was a man inadequate to his times, incapable of understanding, much less controlling, the historical forces that trapped him and his family and ultimately crushed them.

#23 Comment By Polichinello On October 13, 2017 @ 9:16 am

From what’s written, there’s not much to object to in the film. The comparison to Pussy Riot is annoying.

Perhaps this film does this, but any treatment of Nicholas II should highlight not only how ill-suited he was to the autocracy, but how dysfunctional the system as a whole was, as it relied on one man. How well this would track with Putin’s path is unclear–he’s not entirely an autocrat–but if the film covers this, then it might do a good service.

#24 Comment By mrscracker On October 13, 2017 @ 11:06 am

I visited an Anglican church a couple years back & saw an icon of Tsar Nicholas, the Tsarina & their children.
What a terrible thing to murder an entire family like that.
I found out my maternal DNA type was the same as Tsar Nicholas(& I imagine millions of other people’s too), but still think that very cool.
I think any film with sex scenes is in bad taste & more so if the characters portrayed are not fictional. It seems like voyeurism.
Raunchy scenes in a film about St. Augustine or Mary Magdalene would offend a wider audience, but this seems offensive, too. I don’t blame anyone Orthodox for saying so.

#25 Comment By Ben H On October 13, 2017 @ 11:46 am

The Orthodox, acting with characteristic Russian restraint and sobriety, are in the right here.

My understanding is that the film falsifies history by having the relationship continue after the czar’s marriage. Also it sounds like there are “steamy” scenes and nudity. All these things tend to de-mystify the Czar who of course is important to the Orthodox.

Also : the film was partially funded by the Russian government and the director is Jewish. For some reason we can understand the likely reaction were the Israeli government to give money to gentiles to make a Holocaust film and they came back with something that de-mystified the whole thing with a falsified embarrassing story, but we can’t understand that Christian feelings should be considered by outsiders too.

A multicultural society means that groups have to cultivate mutual respect or there will be conflict. When a person or group decides that it can take a swing at outsiders without consequence it’s going to lead to problems like this.

#26 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 13, 2017 @ 12:20 pm

The link Christopher Grant offers is quite interesting and edifying. As I’ve stated many times, I have neither love nor respect for Czar Nicholas II. But as to the movie, it appears it is indeed a figment of the scriptwriter’s imagination, rather than a historically accurate rendering. The linked reviews seem credible… nobody denies that Crown Prince Nicholas had a close friendship with a ballerina — they may or may not have been lovers — and recorded chronology seems clear that this all happened before his marriage. Case closed on the movie.

I nit pick over the accuracy of movies quite a bit, based both on history and the books many movies are based on. I appreciate fidelity to what really happened, or to the original author’s concept. I object to scriptwriters who decide that either history, or another long-dead author’s novel, is the scriptwriter’s canvass to splash their own preoccupations over. Write your own damn plot and don’t attribute it to anyone else. Explicit historically speculative fiction, like Orson Scott Card’s series on a reimagined North America is fine, because it doesn’t purport to be anything else.

So, without in the slightest degree intending to rehabilitate the monarchs of Europe, most of whom I detest, it seems quite likely that this movie is B-grade trash.

#27 Comment By Kevin on the Left On October 13, 2017 @ 1:43 pm

The question whether Nicholas did or didn’t have sex/romantic feelings with Mathilda is really besides the point: even if he sowed his oats, all sources agree that post-marriage, he was a uniquely devoted husband and father, who died well. And indeed, if the criteria for his martyrdom is his death and his love of his family ,then surely he is a martyr and a saint. But the far more interesting question is the extent to which he was ruinous, disastrous monarch: he instigated the Russo-Japanese war, let his secret services spread the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, has his share of blame over the outbreak of World War One, and was so inflexible and lacking political skill that by the winter of 2016, his army, family, and even the most ardent monarchists has nothing but contempt for him. And in the end, if he was not such a grotesque disaster of a monarch, he would likely have ended his life as a constitutional monarch, not as a martyr..

#28 Comment By Kevin on the Left On October 13, 2017 @ 1:48 pm

What I am trying to get at: if I were the Russian Church, I would not sanctify Nicholas, because while his death is heroic, he has a lot of blood on his hands: some through crimes, much more through errors. There is, unfortunately, no shortage of possible saints and martyrs among the victims of the Bolsheviks.

#29 Comment By Liam On October 13, 2017 @ 2:02 pm

Proposed Hollywood titles of at biopic on Justinian and Theodora:

There Will Be Geese: Grains of Barley.

But it will be in Greek so that schoolboys have to learn their Greek.

#30 Comment By DRK On October 13, 2017 @ 2:17 pm

Marie Antoinette should have apologized to the people of Paris, not to her executioner. So typical of the nobility… touching a shoe is a more grave offense than telling starving people that if they have no bread, they should eat cake.

Except of course Marie Antoinette never actually said that; the story is first related about an unnamed “great princess” by Jean-Jacques Rouseeau in about 1767; Marie Antoinette would have been 12 at the time. but hey, don’t let me interrupt your rant.

Actually I can’t get particularly worked up about the Tsar Nicolas thing either, sorry. Everyone involved in this story has been dead for decades. The Romanov family was not killed because they were Christian, they were killed because they were political opponents of the Bolsheviks and posed a danger to the new regime. Which is terrible, but describing them as martyrs is a huge stretch. Many people have died bravely under unjust circumstances; they are not all canonized. I’m not Orthodox, so it’s not my place to tell them who to canonize, but frankly, from the outside, that sainthood looks more nationalistic than anything else.

The movie looks like schlock and I will not bother to see it, but I am more bothered by all the movies that exploited that poor child Anastasia’s “mysterious” death to make a few bucks, than I am about this melodramatic account of a consensual relationship between two adults, which actually did happen, albeit not with the chronology this movie suggests.

#31 Comment By Sabrina Messenger On October 13, 2017 @ 2:20 pm

I agree that the controversy over this film and the concert “perfomance” is not the same. The concert was far worse and a lot more disrespectful because they did their stuff inside of a church. What I find ridiculous is that folks are making a fuss over a relationship that took place over 125 years ago, and when both consenting persons were free and single. If the Tsarina could ‘forgive’ the Tsar for his dalliance, then why can’t the rest of us? People need to stop with this mistaken idea that sainthood means a person has never made a wrong move in their lives. If we were perfect then we wouldn’t need God, right? If anything, the idea that the saints struggled with the same temptations as anyone else should be inspiration for us to not give up, right? Church triumphant fought and WON their battle. That’s something to celebrate not censor or whitewash. That’s how I see it.

#32 Comment By Prof CJ On October 13, 2017 @ 3:39 pm

Rod, you missed the nationalistic angle in the story
which is understandable since you’re not a Slav.
Matylda Krzesińska (the ballerina’s actual name) was
Polish, and is played in the movie by the well-known Polish actress Michalina Olszańska. The role of the future tsar went to the German actor Lars Eidinger. Hence the two main roles did not go to the Russians . This would by itself create a lot of resentment in Russia. It doesn’t help that the historical ballerina was actually Polish, and that the tsar was about 90% German, so the casting was actually perfect. Another reason for hurt feelings in Russia might have been that the tsar ultimately married Alexandra who was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, so it looked like he rejected Russia twice, with two foreign women.

Still another reason for the unease was that much of Poland was then illegally occupied by Russia (until 1918), and yet
the Russian tsars who were 85-90% German were close to the Polish aristocracy. The Russians took it to mean that the Germans considered Poland more civilized than Russia, which was definitely true. Russia did not have a good image in Europe (read Marx or Thomas Mann on this). Krzesińska was very close to the throne, and became a wealthy woman. She died in Paris in 1971 at the age of 99. What a life! Around 1908-12 she competed with two famous Polish dancers: the legendary Vaslav Nijinsky (actually Wacław Niżyński) and his sister Bronia -the latter died in 1972 in California. This was another reason for Russian resentment – most dramatic roles went to the Polish ballet dancers who were graduates in the late 19th century of the famed Teatr Wielki (Grand Theatre) in Warsaw. When Diaghilev took his famous Ballets Russes to Paris – the main roles went in fact to the Nijinsky siblings. Ironically, much of the music performed in Paris, e.g., Le Sacre du printemps, was composed by Stravinsky who was descended from Polish nobility (original name Srawiński).

I don’t know how many Russians know this now but Nicholas II and his family typically vacationed in Poland, so it may have looked then like he was giving preference to Poland at the expense of Russia

#33 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 13, 2017 @ 5:31 pm

The British govt. in 1917 first offered and then withdrew the possibility of asylum for Nicholas and his family, fearing public reaction at home. None of the other allies, including France or Canada, was willing to offer asylum either.

Not in the midst of a war to make the world safe for democracy, a premise challenged by militant working class peace movements in most of the Allied nations. No way could they give refuge to an autocrat like Nicholas. He was worse than the Kaiser, and you know what the WW I propaganda about the Kaiser was like.

That being said, I would bet that after a few years of the rule of the Bolsheviks, people recalled the Tsar more fondly.

You’ll have to do more than bet on your own fuzzy feelings if you want to make a point.

According to Wikipedia, 5,000 US Army troops were sent to Arkhangelsk while another 8,000 soldiers were shipped to Vladivostok.

And Seattle dockworkers refused to ship supplies for them.

“Nicholas and Alexandra” was a whitewash. I used to say it was the last movie I saw with a happy ending, but for the children’s sake, I stopped talking like that. It would have been good if Nicholas could have been afforded the same mercy that I believe Karla Faye Tucker should have been afforded… who knows, he might have repented and become a decent human being with something valuable to offer, sort of like the Dalai Lama.

#34 Comment By JonF On October 13, 2017 @ 7:56 pm

Nearly every movie or TV treatment of history contains fictionalized material (and ignores aspects of historical veracity). This year’s “The White Princess” was practically historical fantasy in its treatment of the first Tudors– yet the British did not respond indignantly. The Russians should deal similarly with a movie about Nicholas which is less than “the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” It’s the way these things work and have for millennia. Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and Aeschylus were not slaves to historical fact either.

#35 Comment By HobokenMike On October 13, 2017 @ 11:00 pm

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Why is this glossed over when discussing Nicholas II? As much as I love this blog, the white-washing of historical Orthodox leadership is a weak point.

[NFR: What “whitewashing”? I don’t deny that the Russians are historically guilty of vicious anti-Semitism. I don’t often write about Russian Orthodoxy, because it comes up so rarely in the news, and my knowledge of Orthodoxy in Russia is not deep. I think you’re projecting. — RD]

#36 Comment By BlairBurton On October 14, 2017 @ 8:00 am

“…but I am more bothered by all the movies that exploited that poor child Anastasia’s “mysterious” death to make a few bucks, than I am about this melodramatic account of a consensual relationship between two adults, which actually did happen, albeit not with the chronology this movie suggests.”

For a good treatment of the Anastasia/Anna Anderson affair, read Greg King and Penny Wilson’s “The Resurrection of the Romanovs”. It shows how so very many people wanted to believe that Anastasia survived, and managed to convince themselves of that, until the DNA evidence put paid to the idea(and even then, some continued to support Anna Anderson’s claim).

And as someone previously said, a lot more material became available after the fall of the Soviet Union. Another dual biography of the couple, “Alix and Nicky” by Virginia Rounding, makes use of the recently available material. Robert Massie also wrote a follow-up to “Nicholas and Alexandra”, titled “The Romanovs: The Final Chapter” after the location of the remains of the imperial family.

#37 Comment By JonF On October 14, 2017 @ 9:02 am

Re: Another reason for hurt feelings in Russia might have been that the tsar ultimately married Alexandra who was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, so it looked like he rejected Russia twice, with two foreign women.

Tsars were required to marry women of royal blood (after some early 19th century reforms). So it was inevitable that Nicholas would marry someone foreign. And indeed foreign marriages for royalty were the norm almost everywhere in Europe. Between Catherine Paar and the current queen’s mother (and George VI was not originally slated to become king) there was not one British-born queen or prince consort in the UK.

#38 Comment By BlairBurton On October 14, 2017 @ 1:36 pm

“I visited an Anglican church a couple years back & saw an icon of Tsar Nicholas, the Tsarina & their children.”

There is a statue of Grand Duchess Elizabeth, born Princess Elizabeth of Hesse, Alexandra’s elder sister and Nicholas’s aunt by marriage as well as his sister-in-law, on the west front of Westminster Abbey along with other Christian martyrs of the 20th century including Martin Luther King Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Elizabeth, called Ella by her family, was created an Orthodox saint as was her sister, brother-in-law, and their children since she was also executed by the Bolsheviks, as much for her charitable work and religious devotion as for her Romanov connections.

After her husband’s assassination in 1905 Ella gave away all her possessions, withdrew from the world and founded an order of nursing nuns, living with them and working in the slums of Moscow. She refused to leave Russia as the revolution threatened her safety, staying to continue her work with the poor.

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