Ivan the Terrible, Part II: The Boyars' Plot (1958)

Directed by Sergei Eisenstein

This is the second part of a projected three-part epic biopic of Russian Czar Ivan Grozny, undertaken by Soviet film-maker Sergei Eisenstein at the behest of Josef Stalin. Production of the epic was stopped before the third part could be filmed, due to producer dissatisfaction with Eisenstein's introducing forbidden experimental filming techniques into the material, more evident in this part than the first part. As it was, this second part was banned from showings until after the deaths of both Eisenstein and Stalin, and a change of attitude by the subsequent heads of the Soviet government. In this part, as Ivan the Terrible attempts to consolidate his power by establishing a personal army, his political rivals, the Russian boyars, plot to assassinate him.

"In naïve or pure camp, the essential element is seriousness; a seriousness that fails," wrote Susan Sontag in 1964... and parts of Ivan the Terrible: Part II certainly end up in depicting a sort of "dandyism in the age of mass culture". Yet Part II feels so incredibly slapdash compared to its predecessor. Whither the wonderful animalesque expressionist depictions of the characters, for example? There's even an extremely embarrassing point where the seemingly permanent, cave-like castle rocks and wobbles when one of the characters puts their hand down on it... indeed, at the very memoorable spot where Efrosinia entreated Ivan to take the poisoned goblet in the first part. Anyway, all this meant that when the colour scenes arrives (the colour film famously stolen from occupied Berlin) it does not seem possible, let alone justified, to read anything whatsoever into the blooming of colour.