In 1547, Ivan IV (1530-1584), archduke of Moscow, crowns himself Tsar of Russia and sets about reclaiming lost Russian territory.
If Sergei Eisenstein’s two-part epic seems lopsided, it’s because there was supposed to be a third part to tie everything up but Stalin hated Part Two so much that plans to finish the trilogy were abandoned. Even so, it’s a bizarre mix of the undeniably brilliant and the puzzlingly childish: Tsar Ivan unites the country and pals around with peasants as if he were a communist, while scurvy aristocrats scheme against him, but he also cracks up flamboyantly in the process and the films fall apart with him. It’s deliberately stylised and the samovar boils well and truly over in Part Two, which has a delirious colour sequence and requires the witch-like villainess to belt out a couple of operatic arias. It’s also, almost subliminally, an amazingly camp epic, with Ivan planting kisses on his girly-looking best friends, and a surprising amount of swishery among the rampaging knights. Incoherent as only a near-great film can be, with dollops of turgidity among stretches of amazement.
Mostly brilliant, but a few weak spots make it drag slightly.