The province of Novgorod, 13th Century Russia, young Prince Alexander Nevsky is defending his realm from Swedish and German invaders but some in his Kingdom want to make a trade alliance with the Westerners and they try to poison the prince on his wedding day. His best friend, jealous of the wedding is suspected and flees into the forests. While the Prince has to deal with Mongol hoardes from the East, the European Knights prepare to attack the Kingdom and defeat Alexander in battle...
Produced by the Russian Board of Culture as an educational historical film, it is no surprise that Aleksandr. Nevskaya bitva is a highly patriotic enterprise and has an appropriately hagiograpic reverence for the eponymous Saint (particularly considering that in a national poll in 2008 he was named the greatest hero in Russian history). The script builds up to the 1240 Battle of Neva, the first major chapter in the documented life of Alexander and is based on the historical situation of the time with the typical historical film fillers of a love triangle and a betrayal by one of the hero's friends.
Obviously a quite small scale production, aside from an opening skirmish the film focuses entirely on dialogue and plot until the final battle. The purely fictional aspects to the storyline are well worked in to the historical plot, while the build-up to the battle certainly ties in plausibly to the known history (records on the real battle are very limited) and the film flows along at a good pace that belies the lack of action scenes. Obviously intended for a domestic audience, the storyline does require a little background knowledge of Russian history, but it is certainly refreshing not to have the dumbing down that a Western version of the same story might have.
Director Igor Kalyonov has mostly worked as a producer, but gives a good turn behind the camera with a few artistic flourishes and he is aided by some beautiful set design. Aware of its own limitations, the film never tries to go beyond the small scale sets and locations, there are none of the cheap CGI city shots or backdrops that damage many other low budget historical films. The final battle is well set-up and again avoids the use of CG effects, although it is let down by an unnecessary use of modernistic quick fire editing (the scale of the real battle is somewhat disputed by historians and so the smallish skirmish shown here is probably accurate). A solid orchestral soundtrack is complemented by religious chanting that works well throughout.
Kazakhstan-born actor Anton Pampushnyy is well cast in the lead role alongside the stunning Svetlana Bakulina (a regular in historical TV series like Catherine Musketeers (2007)) who is certainly memorable but doesn't get much to do as the Princess. Performances all round are strong.
Despite its promotion on export markets as an epic war film, Aleksandr. Nevskaya bitva is not on the scale of contemporary Taras Bulba (2008) and is actually quite a small scale production, largely set-bound and with only one relatively short battle sequence. Although not as full of brazen propaganda as that film, the glowing presentation of the Saint and purely Russian sided take on history may be too much for some. However, the film is strongly paced, well made and acted and tells an interesting story almost unknown to Anglo-American audiences it will certainly be of interest to historical drama fans.
|Anyone famous in it?||No-one well known.|
|Directed by anyone interesting?||Igor Kalyonov - a Russian director, he also helmed the historical thriller series Sekretnaya sluzhba Ego Velichestva (2007)|
|Any gore or violence ?||Blood in the battle scenes, but nothing gory.|
|Any sex or nudity?||None.|
|Who is it for?||Of interest to fans of historical dramas.
|Visuals||Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
OAR is listed on IMDB as 2.35:1, but there is no obvious cropping on this print A clean digital transfer with no problems.
|Audio||Russian 2.0 stereo|
|Subtitles||English - no problems.|
|Region||Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL|
|Other regions?||Released in the US by Revolver Entertainment as Alexander with only a poorly reviewed English dub track, no original language option. German release as 1240 - Schlacht an der Neva includes 5.1 Russian track (as well as 5.1 German dub) but only German subtitles.|
|Cuts?||Believed to be fully uncut. Print language is Russian.|