Along with its rich literary tradition, Russia has just as often been portrayed in film. Many classic films have set their stories in times when the nation and the rest of Europe experienced great social upheaval, with characters struggling to balance external circumstances with the relationships and struggles of their own lives. Other films serve as adaptations of famous literary works. Here is a synopsis of five well-known films that depict Russia and its people.
Nicholas and Alexandra
This 1971 classic tells the story of the last of Russia’s monarchs, Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra. Based in part on the historical facts of Nicholas’s overthrow during the Russian Revolution, the film also examines the private lives of both monarchs, the secret that bonded them with mystic Rasputin and the political circumstances that led to their eventual execution. Based on the bestselling biography by Robert K. Massie.
Fiddler on the Roof
Having been originally performed as a Broadway musical and having spawned countless theatrical runs, this renowned 1971 musical retains worldwide popularity to this day. Set in Tsarist Russia in 1905, it tells of a father’s attempts to preserve his family’s religious traditions in the face of religious persecution against Jews as well as the desire of his three oldest daughters to pursue husbands while shirking the traditions of their faith.
War and Peace
The 1956 film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel stands as a Hollywood gem, despite its differences from the novel. The Italian countryside doubles for war-torn Russia during the Napoleonic wars as Audrey Hepburn, Henry Fonda, and Mel Ferrer portray the central characters caught in a complex web of personal circumstances and struggles. Despite its unfaithfulness to Tolstoy’s epic, the film won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Foreign Film and was nominated for several Academy Awards.
This film is the story of a young woman in 1920’s France suffering amnesia. She is picked up by a group of Russian expatriates who recruit her into impersonating Anastasia, the daughter of the late Tsar Nicholas II who was rumored to have survived the execution of the Tsar’s family. The more they get to know her, the more the Russians suspect that the woman may, in fact, be the real Anastasia.
Loosely based on the 1957 book of the same name, this 1965 film tells the story of a Russian doctor and poet who is in love with two women – his own wife and the wife of a political activist. The story takes place in with World War I and the Russian Revolution as the backdrop, heightening the sense of urgency and stability in the characters’ lives.