Sergei Eisenstein’s great battle epic set in 1242 is an exceptional patriotic war movie that follows the story of Prince Alexander Nevsky from the apparent position of humble fisherman to a war hero, leading his country in a successful campaign against invaders from Germany.
It is 1242 and the story begins with Russia constantly being invaded by Mongol raiders, in their endless pursuit of land and treasure, when news comes of an impending attack by Teutonic knights. Some of the Russian hierarchy try, and succeed, in forming a non-aggression pact. These leaders are regarded as cowards and traitors by the people and Alexander is asked to lead the proletariat into battle against the new invaders.
Alexander succeeds in inspiring the masses into mobilising and arming themselves. The Teutons gain a number of victories including the capture of the city of Pskov and inflict many acts of barbarism on the people there. Alexander then leads the Russian people’s army, which includes many young women, into battle where, contrary to conventional imagery, the white robes of the Teutons are associated with cruelty and death while heroism and patriotism is symbolised by the black robes of the Russian warriors.
The vast armies are of epic proportions and Eisenstein uses the dramatic effect of the wide flat lands and frozen lakes with huge areas of sky to enhance the amazing battle sequences. The decisive battle is fought in the spring on the frozen lake and after a long exchange, which is one of the greatest battle scenes in cinematic history, the Germans retreat. They are thwarted by the ice breaking and the lake swallowing them up. The victorious Alexander is hailed as a hero on his return and the victors celebrate their success.