Ivan the Terrible

Breathtaking Russian historical film Ivan the Terrible (1944) directed by the legendary Sergei Eisenstein. Its a two part movie, totally running into a good 3 hours. The movie depicts the life and times of Ivan the Terrible, the Russian tsar who was responsible for uniting Russia but at the same ruthless with his opponents. The movie starts with his coronation as a Tsar and during the event itself there are murmurs of dissent from many regional war lords like the boyars and also from his own aunt Evfrosinia (played finely by Serafina Birman) who wants to promote her own son Vladimir is who is little slow in development. Ivan (played by Nikolai Cherkosav) has a tough time dealing with his two close friends also Prince Andrei Kurbsky and Fyodor Kolychev. Kurbsky has eyes on Ivan’s wife Anastasia (played by Lyudmila Tselikovskaya) and he is sent to fight the Kazans while Kolychev gets permission to retire to his monastery. Ivan’s wife is poisoned by his relatives and the first part ends with him consolidating power.

In the second part, Kurbsky is seen joining hands with the King of Poland to lead an assault against Moscow. The second part is less oppressive than the first part. I guess Sergei realised this to make it more amenable to the public. There are couple of song and dance routines in the second part. Ivan’s aunt continues to make machinations against Ivan desperately wanting her son to rule Moscow.

The canvas that Sergei has deployed for making this film, way back in 1944 and by then standards is quite breathtaking to say the least. His camera work, cinematography, editing are simply out of this world. The screenplay is very good for a period movie to condense their lives into cinematic hour. The dialogues could have been better but we have the advantage of English sub-titles. Except for a very small part, major part of the movie is in black and white. I thought some agency should have digitally touched up the prints to infuse colour into the movie just like it was done for Mehboob Khan’s Mughal -e- Azam, which is another breathtaking movie in its own right. This one is a cult classic for the ages.

Sergei Eisenstein was a genius way ahead of his time. His Battleship Potemkin was another great movie.

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