Controversy surrounds ‘blasphemous’ film depicting last Russian tsar’s love affair with ballerina
Executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918, Nicholas II is considered a martyr by the Russian Orthodox Church
Russian authorities promised on Wednesday they would thwart any extremist action by religious or nationalist activists angry about the forthcoming release of a new film about a love affair between Russia’s last tsar and a young ballerina.
Matilda, to be released internationally in late October, tells the tale of the late-19th-century romance between Nicholas II, before he became tsar, and half-Polish dancer Matilda Kshesinskaya, who described the relationship in her memoirs.
Executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918, Nicholas II is considered a martyr by the Russian Orthodox Church, whose influence in society has grown greatly since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Russia’s biggest cinema chain said on Tuesday it had decided not to show the film after receiving threats from religious activists and nationalists who deem it blasphemous.
It reached its decision after an arson attack on the studio of Alexei Uchitel, the film’s director. Two cars parked outside the office of Uchitel’s lawyer were set on fire in a separate attack, while a man drove a car into a cinema last week.
“This whole story is now taking on a pretty ugly shape,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call on Wednesday, saying police should crack down on such extremist action.
“Discussion is one thing, but extremist action is something completely different. It is unacceptable that film distributors should select their repertoire under pressure from extremists who are flouting their rights.”
Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky said in a statement published on Wednesday he blamed politician Natalia Poklonskaya, a lawmaker in the lower house of parliament, for initiating and stirring up the trouble.
Poklonskaya says the film is an insult to religious believers. She says she has filed a request to the Prosecutor-General’s office asking it to act to protect the public from the film.
Medinsky said his ministry had given the green light for the film to be shown nationwide though after concluding that it contained nothing which insulted the country’s last tsar or the history of the Russian monarchy.
Any pressure on private or municipal cinemas not to show Matilda would be viewed as lawlessness and censorship, he added, appealing to the police “to be tough to stop any pressure on the state and cinema business”.