- Imperial Rule
In our hotly contested election year of 2016, today’s 42nd anniversary of the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon recalls the feverishly debated concept of the “Imperial Presidency,” which historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. explored in a 1973 book which studied the exercise of power by our nation’s Chief Executives and how they may test to the limits and perhaps even exceed the limits of Constitutional authority. It’s a hot button issue magnified even more so in our contemporary era of social media communication, strategic information leaks, economic uncertainties, exposés of classified data, security vulnerabilities and mass surveillance. Leaders of nations are subject to greater scrutiny than ever, even as we the people go through our daily lives under all manner of scrutiny. When a country’s top officials lose sight of basic human needs and the hardships of their lower- and middle-class populations in blind pursuit of elitist entitlement, seismic societal fractures may result. Such was the fate of Russia’s Romanov Dynasty, whose imperial misrule during the earth-shaking period of World War I planted the seeds of the 1918 Bolshevik Revolution and whose failure to grasp its monarchical responsibilities to a suffering populace led to the turbulent effects grippingly depicted in the historical epic Nicholas and Alexandra (1971). Based on Robert K. Massie’s celebrated book, this powerful, visually evocative tale centers on a family of loving and proud individuals, headed by Czar Nicholas (Michael Jayston) and Czarina Alexandra (Janet Suzman), who see their grasp of absolute authority as crucial to preserve. But the bitter realities of the Russian people – poverty, starvation, deprivation of health care and workers’ rights, mismanagement of an embattled military, the flagrant denial of a voice in their nation’s future – become too much to endure, leading to their abdication and tragic assassination. Produced by three-time Academy Award® winner Sam Spiegel (On the Waterfront, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia), directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (The Best Man, Planet of the Apes and his Oscar® triumph Patton) and written for the screen by James Goldman (The Lion in Winter, They Might Be Giants, Broadway’s Follies), the film assembles an extraordinary cast (Laurence Olivier, Tom Baker, Jack Hawkins, Harry Andrews, Brian Cox, Steven Berkoff, Alexander Knox, John Wood, Irene Worth, Michael Bryant) and lavish production values to depict all strata of a society whose foundation develops irreparable cracks. It’s one of the screen’s most fascinating cautionary tales about power at the top, worth revisiting at this decisive time on a beautifully rendered Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray, available here: http://www.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/23743/NICHOLAS-AND-ALEXANDRA-1971/.