Controversy Surrounds Russian Film Project About Last Tsar's Affair With Actress
'Matilda' has led to threats against cinemas and corruption allegations.
Controversy is stirring in Russia over a film in the works about the last Russian tsar's affair with a famous actress, with nationalists threatening to burn theaters that plan to screen Matilda: The Mystery of the Romanovs by Golden Globe-nominated director Aleksey Uchitel, scheduled for release in October.
There are also allegations about corruption schemes involving top Russian officials related to the production of the $40 million movie, which the producers of the movie are denying.
Anger has boiled over in recent days after the second trailer for Matilda, centered on the last tsar Nicholas II's affair with Polish ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska, was released online, leading to threats from a right-wing group calling itself Christian State-Holy Russia to take "radical action" and set cinemas that screen the movie on fire.
The group sent letters to Russian movie theaters, threatening to resort to "radical methods of struggle," arguing the movie distorts Russian history. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that threats of that kind could be qualified as "extremism", and the government will treat them "in a hard way."
Natalia Poklonskaya, a member of parliament, also suggested that Uchitel could be prosecuted for violating the privacy of the dead tsar and his family, though whether Russian libel laws extend to protect people long dead is not clear. She also initiated a probe into the movie's script and sources of financing, which is currently under way. Nicholas II was killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918.
The movie first raised controversy late last year when news of the film first became public and it emerged that German actor Lars Eidinger (Personal Shopper) would play Nicholas II, which angered Russian nationalists.
The most recent wave of controversy also involved allegations of corruption, as an investigative report published by Russian website The Insider said money from offshore accounts by senior Kremlin officials were used to finance the movie. The report quoted one of the movie's original producers, Vladislav Moskalev, as saying that $10 million of the movie's budget came from an offshore account run by senior Kremlin officials, for which a kickback in the form of a $400,000 watch was given.
Vladimir Vinokur, one of the movie's producers, was quoted by Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda as saying that sources of the funding for the movie are "a commercial secret," but he denied any irregularity.
Uchitel's 2010 movie Krai (The Edge) was nominated for a Golden Globe in the best foreign-language film category.