See the handout on Alexander Nevsky for details.



  • Tsar Ivan IV ('the Terrible") - Nikolai Cherkassov
  • Prince Andrei Kourbsky - M. Nazvanov
  • Grand Duchess Efrossinia Staritzkaya - Serfina Birman
  • Maluta Skouratova - M. Jarov
  • Tsarina Anastassia Romanovna - L. Tzelikovskaya
  • Alexei Basmanov - A. Boutchma
  • Fedor Basmanov - M. Kouznetzov
  • Monk Philippe - Kolychev

The attraction of the 16thC Tsar Ivan the Terrible was that he was a founding father of the unified central Russian state, who did what had to be done to unify the state and defend it from its enemies (both within - against the nobility, the Boyars, and the Church - and without - the Poles, Germans, and Tartars). A vital element in consoldiation of central power around the Tsar was the formation of the Oprichniki (the secret police who formed a virtual state within a state) which Ivan used to eliminate his enemeies and bind others to his cause. The parallels to Stalin during WW2 are clear. For the first part the director, two main stars, the cameramen, and the composer had received the highest honours (the Stalin Prize) for their work. Unfortunately, the second part was rejected by the Artistic Council of the Ministry of Cinematography because:

Ivan displayed ignorance of historic facts by showing Ivan the Terrible's progressive army of oprichniks as a band of degenerates in the style of the American Ku Klux Klan; and Ivan, a man of great will power and strong character, as a weak and feeble being, a sort of Hamlet. (quoted in Kobal).

Part One (1945)

Part One (1945) deals with Ivan's coronation in 1547 (he prefers to take the title Tsar (Caesar) instead of Grand Prince of Moscow), marriage, illness, miraculous recovery, the poisoning of his wife, struggle against consiprators who wish to replace him with a more compliant ruler of Russia. The first part ends with him in exile but considering the "will of the people" to return to power and lead them against the state's enemies.

Part Two "The Boyars' Plot" (1946 but not shown until 1958)

Part Two "The Boyars' Plot" (1946 but not shown until 1958) deals with his return to power, the formation of his elite force of Oprichnina secret police, the confrontation with his enemies, the poisoning of his mother, the unveiling of a plot to assassinate him. The second part concludes with a colour film scene of a banquet.

Part Three "The Battles of Ivan" (incomplete)

Part Three was to be called "The Battles of Ivan" and would deal with Ivan's victory over the Poles and Germans. It had been approved by Stalin but SE died in 1948 before he could do more than film a few minutes.


  1. The script was written in blank verse in sylised Old Russian and delivered in an operatic fashion to Prokofiev's music. Other highly stylised aspects inlcude the influence of Wagnerian music-drama, Marinsky ballet, Japanese Kabuki theatre. Lots of strange looking beards and furtive looks.
  2. Note the image of Ivan at the end of Part 1 sitting in the window of his retreat, observing the long line of ordinary Russian people who have come to beg him to lead them victory. Absolute power is "popular"? What similarities (actual and asserted) can be drawn between Stalin (the "Red Tsar") and Ivan the Terrible?
  3. The way in which SE ties together in Part One the themes of Ivan's personal life, Russian domestic problems, and international war and trade.
  4. What aspects of Part One would have pleased Stalin and what aspects of Part Two would have displeased him? Does Part One embody the approved aesthetics of Soviet Socialist Realism?
  5. The nature of absolute power of Ivan (or Stalin). Note the symbols of power at Ivan's coronation and the role of the Church. The justification Ivan gives of the ruthless use of power to unite and defend the state:
    • A kingdom cannot be ruled without an iron hand.
    • Only absolute power can safeguard Muscovy from her foes.
    • Henceforth the sword of righteousness shall flash against those who encroach on Russia from without.
  6. The role war plays in medieval Russian society. The suggestion that war against the Tartars at Kazan is a way of uniting the competing groups within Muscovite society against a common enemy. The imporance of the war against Livonia for control of the maritime ports and trade routes.