A controversial film about a love affair between Russia’s last tsar and a ballet dancer has finally premiered in Russia despite violent protests and complaints from nationalist and Orthodox Christian activists.
There were at seven arrests at the premiere of Alexey Uchitel’s Matilda in Moscow on Tuesday as police detained activists who tried to stage a demonstration outside the cinema. Several foreign actors, including German Lars Eidinger who plays Nicholas II, refused to travel to Russia to mark the release because of safety fears.
“It’s a victory. Of course it’s not a victory for Matilda or me and my team but it’s a victory for common sense,” director Alexey Uchitel told the BBC at the Monday premiere in St Petersburg’s Marinksy Theatre.
The film has been publicly backed by the Russian authorities and many members of Russia’s political and cultural elite were in attendance at the premieres in the two cities. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, came to the event in Moscow and prominent conductor Valery Gergiev, who conducted the music for the film, was present in St Petersburg.
Matilda tells the story of the relationship between a young Nicholas II and Matilda Kshesinskaya, one of the most famous ballerinas of the early 20th century. Although most accept that the affair happened, critics say that its depiction in the film was distorted and vulgar. Nicholas II was made a saint by the Orthodox Church in 2000, and religious protesters have been particularly vocal in their denunciations.
Two cars were set on fire earlier this month outside the office of the attorney for Uchitel and signs reading “burn for Matilda” were reportedly found near the scene. Last month, assailants tried to set fire to Uchitel’s film studio. Uchitel has also received death threats.
One of Nicholas II’s last surviving relatives, Olga Kulikovskaya-Romanova, the wife of his nephew, wrote a letter earlier this week to Putin describing Matilda as “immoral” and an attack on Russia. She asked the Russian leader to prevent it being shown in cinemas.
Matilda is on general release in Russia from Thursday.