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Sunday May 19th 2024

Alexander Nevsky | 1938

In Sergei Eisenstein’s classic, 13th century Prince Nevsky (Nikolai Cherkasov) defeats Teutonic knights in a battle on the ice of Lake Peipus in Northern Russia, to music by Sergei Prokofiev.

This state-funded film is set largely in the city of Novgorod, about 100 miles south of St Petersburg, but the city had changed too much to allow location filming. Although the 13th century cathedral is still there, it’s surrounded by modern buildings and no longer as gleaming white as it once was.

For the film, the city sets were actually built – at enormous expense – just outside Moscow. Despite the film’s wintry look, Nevsky was actually filmed during the summer, with snow simulated by white sand shipped in from the beaches of the Baltic Sea, cotton wool perched in the tree branches and the actors showered with salt.

Lake Peipus was also mocked-up on the set, with the artificial ice floes supported by collapsible pontoons designed to give way on cue.

As an homage, Ken Russell virtually recreates this sequence at the end of Billion Dollar Brain, where it’s the private army of batty General Midwinter disappearing beneath the ice.