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Fearing Attacks, Russian Cinema Chain Won't Show Tsar Film Targeted By Conservative Activists

People buy tickets for a screening of Aleksei Uchitel's latest film, Matilda, at the Illyuzion cinema in Vladivostok on September 11.

Russia's biggest cinema chain says it will not show Matilda, a film based on an early romantic liaison of Tsar Nicholas II, citing fears for the safety of audiences after a string of attacks linked to the movie and its director.

The company that owns the Cinema Park and Formula Kino movie theaters made the announcement on September 12, the same day that some 2,000 conservative activists marched in protest against the film in St. Petersburg.

Russian Orthodox activists, Cossack groups, and others walked down the imperial-era capital's main street, Nevsky Prospekt, holding portraits of the last tsar and signs with slogans including "Matilda is a slap in the face of the Russian nation."

Respected director Aleksei Uchitel's movie tells the story of a romance between Nicholas, when he was an unmarried crown prince, and ballet dancer Matilda Kshesinskaya.

It has drawn the ire of monarchists and conservative Russian Orthodox activists who say it besmirches the memory of Nicholas, who was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church together with his family in 2000.

Over the protests of opponents, the Culture Ministry approved the film for release in July, and it is scheduled to open nationwide on October 26.

But following several attacks appearing to target Uchitel and his film, the Cinema Park/Formula Kino network said it would not to show the film in order to "prevent possible risks for the cinema network's clients."

"The decision is motivated solely by the desire to protect visitors to the cinema network from risks that the public showing of the film would entail," Russian news agencies quoted it as saying in a statement.

The company owns 75 cinema complexes with 624 screens in 28 Russian cities.

The chain's director, Roman Linin, said it was a difficult decision to make. "The situation surrounding the film...has probably raised its commercial potential, but our clients' security remains a priority for us," Linin said.

The announcement came a day after masked men in Moscow set fire to two cars near the office of Uchitel's lawyers and left leaflets that said, "To burn for Matilda."

It was the third violent incident connected to the film in less than two weeks.

On August 31, unknown attackers threw Molotov cocktails into Uchitel's studio in St. Petersburg.

On September 4, police said, a man who had protested against the film rammed a car into a movie theater in the city Yekaterinburg and set the vehicle ablaze, causing a fire that spread to the cinema's entrance.

An advance showing went ahead without incident in the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok on September 11, under heavy security, but a similar showing that was to have been held in Moscow the same day was postponed until October 25.

One of the most vocal opponents of the film is Natalya Poklonskaya, a lawmaker and former prosecutor in Russian-occupied Crimea who has voiced monarchist views and claimed in March that fragrant myrrh was seeping from a bronze bust of the tsar.

The resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union has been accompanied by the appearance of militant activists.

They have become more prominent under President Vladimir Putin, who has cast the church as a source of guidance for society and, particularly in his current term, appealed to what he has called traditional, conservative Russian values.

The liaison between Nicholas and Kshesinskaya ended in 1894, when he married the German princess who became Empress Alexandra.

The affair is well documented but activists insist it did not take place -- some saying they don't believe Nicholas could have fallen in love with someone who was half-Polish and, according to an analysis commissioned by Poklonskaya, "utterly homely."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service, Rambler News Service, Fontanka, and RIA Novosti
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