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THE RUSSIAN bioflick Matilda, detailing Tsarevich Nicholas’s affair with ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya, isn’t scheduled for release until October 2017. However, it has already generated lots of buzz in its homeland. Here at SimanaitisSays yesterday as well, and not only because of the dishy Ms. Poklonskaya being one of the flick’s most influential critics.

Also included among the film’s dissing is the Russian Orthodox Church, which in these post-Soviet days seems to have resurrected itself to ecclesiastic heights from Soviet just-old-museums status. With regard to its government involvement, I am reminded of another recent item here at SimanaitisSays concerning separation of church and state.

For example, Matilida film critic Bishop Tikhon is also the abbot of a historic Moscow monastery and President Vladimir Putin’s personal confessor. (Golly, who would have guessed?)

Everyday Saints and Other Stories by Tikhon, Georgiy Alexandrovich Shevkunov, Moscow-born 1958, Bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, personal confessor of Vladimir Putin.

Should you research further, be aware that there is a multiplicity of Bishop Tikhons in Russian lore. However, this particular Bishop Tikhon is the author of Everyday Saints and Other Stories, a best seller in Russia in 2012 competing in popularity with Fifty Shades of Grey. The bishop’s views on the latter are not recorded, but he criticized the Matilda film’s “conscious distortion of history.”

Speaking of bishops and distorted history, I am reminded of the high-living Kirill I, Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, who performed the 2009 miracle of a $30,000 Breguet watch disappearing off his wrist, yet remaining in the table’s reflection.

Fake news? What fake news? Image from “Faked Photos”.

Part of the movie Matilda’s notoriety, based on an advance trailer, appears to be the briefest glimpse of ballerina Matilda’s breast, followed by the Tsarevich’s eye-popping response. (It was 1890, after all.) The movie’s depiction of this wardrobe malfunction might well be fictitious, but it is factual that the Tsarevich and ballerina became an item. (During the affair, she was given a home once owned by composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.)

Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrevich, 1868–1917, reigned as Nicholas II from 1894 to his death in 1917. This image, c. 1889.

Nicholas and his father the Emperor were there at Ms. Kshesinskaya’s 1890 début at the Mariinsky Theatre. Following her performance, the Emperor told her to “… be the glory and adornment of our ballet.”

Yes, that too. Ms. Kshesinskaya was 17; the Tsarevich, 21.

Russian archives confirm that the affair continued for the last two years of Nicholas’s bachelorhood. Matters ended, evidently with understanding, when the Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt became Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of All the Russias in 1894.

Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna, 1872–1917, Empress consort of All the Russias.

Let’s not compare images of Ms. Kshesinskaya and the Tsarina too critically, particularly because the latter and her husband were canonized as Passion Bearers of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2000. And, according to The New York Times, the wrong opinion, like the movie, might be considered “an insult to the faithful, which is a crime in Russia.”

Apparently, what with this particular non-separation of church and state, one doesn’t treat the saint’s other passions lightly.

Kshesinskaya portraying Princess Aspicia in the under-water scene from Petipa’s The Pharaoh’s Daughter, 1898.

It turns out that the real Matilda was not universally loved. Mariinsky maestro Marius Petipa respected Kshesinskaya as a dancer, yet referred to her in his diary as “… that nasty little swine.” My research did not reveal her height.

Part of the official Russian animosity for the film Matilda may be traceable to the government having ponied up one third of the film’s $25 million budget. There’s also something of a smear campaign going on: One claim is that a reported 20,000 people have already opposed the movie, apparently based solely on its trailer. On the other hand, it’s said many of these responses were form letters.

Another smear claims that German actor Lars Eidinger, who portrays Nicholas, is a pornographic film star; this, because he had a nude scene in Goltzius and the Pelican Company, a Peter Greenway historical drama with erotic themes.

What with a scheduled October 2017 release, it’s too early to assess Matilda’s place in cinema history. However, life ended more or less happily for the real Matilda. After breaking up with the soon-to-be-married/soon-to-be-Emperor Nicholas, she was pals with two other members of the Romanov family, the Grand Dukes Sergei Mikhailovich and Andrei Vladimorovich.

Her son Vladimir was acknowledged by Mikhailovich, who alas was murdered by Bolsheviks in 1918. She married Vladimorovich after he escaped Russia. He too recognized Vladimir, nicknamed Vova, as his own.

For years, Grand Duke Andrei and his wife lived in Paris, where she ran a ballet school. Dame Margot Fonteyn was one of her students. Eight months short of her 100th birthday, Matilda Kshesinskaya died in 1971. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

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