After several months of planning, my talented wife Kat and I have finally launched our theatre company. Australian Made Entertainment will concentrate on producing Australian plays in New York City (and, considering my love of film, we will inevitably branch into movie-making as well). We have a theatre booked for our first show later this year, so stay tuned for more details. This blog will undoubtedly feature more announcements on behalf of the company but, in the meantime, visit our website, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
Kicking off our look at the Oscar nominees for the Best Picture of 1971 is...
Nicholas and Alexandra
Franklin J. Schaffner
(based on the book by Robert K. Massie)
Michael Jayston, Janet Suzman, Harry Andrews, Tom Baker, Michael Bryant, Maurice Denham, Jack Hawkins, Ian Holm, Curd Jürgens, John McEnery, Roderic Noble, Eric Porter, Michael Redgrave, Alan Webb, Irene Worth, Laurence Olivier
2 wins, for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design
Presenting the final years of the Russian monarchy, the story of Nicholas (Jayston), the Tsar of Russia, and his wife Alexandra (Suzman) begins with the birth of their only son, Alexei (played as an older child by Noble), who is quickly diagnosed with haemophilia. Nicholas is eager for his son to take the reins of the monarchy upon his death, but two main issues stand in his way. First, Alexei's condition will probably see him die before his father, a possibility made more likely as Alexei's daredevil behaviour turns somewhat suicidal. Second, Russia's volatile political situation means there may not be a monarchy for Alexei to take over anyway. Nicholas' stubbornness leads him to ignore his advisors' consistent warnings of an uprising, and he chooses instead to believe that his subjects want and need a traditional monarch to keep them satisfied.
As its two design Oscars attest, Nicholas and Alexandra is visually splendid, following in the footsteps of the many sweeping epics of the 1960s. And as with all good epics, its extravagance is carefully balanced with introspection. In fact, at its heart, this is a personal portrayal of a family man struggling to hold on to his dying dynasty.
The picture's tone is unmistakably British. Everything is presented with such weight and sombre importance, leading to a highly effective final scene that pushes the boundary of how many times you can cut between people's faces and still call it suspense. It turns out the answer is quite a few. And it's those stoic British faces that make the film so compelling. Almost everyone's performance, even down to the young Roderic Noble, contains heavy emotion, but it's all behind steely eyes. It's as if they were specifically directed to keep any movement of facial muscles to a bare minimum.
, if you accept that they're speaking English, it's not such a big leap to accept their accent. In any case, the suspension of disbelief required is well worth the effect.
As mentioned, the cast consists of a great number of actors who perform their roles with piercing gravity. Indeed, there is a veritable cornucopia of well-known British thespians appearing in smaller roles, including Michael Redgrave, Irene Worth, Jack Hawkins, Eric Porter and the great Laurence Olivier. Classic Doctor Who fans will get a kick out of seeing Tom Baker (pictured) in his film debut as Rasputin. You may not recognise his face behind that fluffy beard, but his commanding voice is a giveaway. A young Brian Cox also makes his film debut as Leon Trotsky. Ian Holm, in an early screen role, competes for the most stoic performance of the film. He is trumped, however, by the film's lead, Michael Jayston, who remains the king of stoicism. Jayston carries the film brilliantly, delivering an incredibly moving outburst of shame in one pivotal scene. At his side for most of the story is Janet Suzman as Alexandra, who likewise offers an outstanding performance, achieving the film's only acting nomination.