Controversial film about Russian czar cleared for release
A historical film about the last Russian czar’s affair with a ballerina has been cleared for release, the Culture Ministry said Thursday, a decision that follows months of disputes and angry calls for its ban.
“Matilda,’’ which describes Nicholas II’s relationship with Matilda Kshesinskaya, has drawn virulent criticism from some Orthodox believers and hard-line nationalists, who see it as blasphemy against the emperor, glorified as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church.
The controversy around the film, unparalleled in Russia’s post-Soviet history, has reflected the church’s rising influence and the increasing assertiveness of radical religious activists.
Russian lawmaker Natalya Poklonskaya, who previously had served as the chief regional prosecutor in Crimea following its 2014 annexation by Moscow, spearheaded the campaign for banning the film.
A devout Orthodox believer, Poklonskaya even asked the Prosecutor General’s office to carry out an inquiry into “Matilda,’’ which is set to be released on the centennial of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.
The lavish production, filmed in historic imperial palaces and featuring sumptuous costumes, loosely follows the story of Nicholas II’s infatuation with Kshesinskaya that began when he was heir-apparent and ended at his marriage in 1894.
The czar and his family were executed by a Bolshevik firing squad in July 1918. The Russian Orthodox Church made them saints in 2000.
Director Alexei Uchitel has rejected the accusations and prominent Russian filmmakers have come to his defence. The film’s critics and its defenders both have appealed to the Kremlin, but it has refrained from publicly entering the fray.
On Thursday, the Russian Culture Ministry finally announced that the film has received official clearance for viewers over 16.
Vyasheslav Telnov, the head of the ministry’s film department, said it checked “Matilda’’ and found it in full compliance with legal norms.
“No state organ or non-government organization can ban production or release of a feature film for political or ideological motives,’’ Telnov said.
Russia’s growing conservative streak has worried many in the country’s artistic community.