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Russia's devout royalists protest racy biopic of tsar
A bust of tsar Nicholas II is seen among other bronze statues of Russian rulers, from ancient times to the 1917 revolutions, at the so-called Alley of Rulers in downtown Moscow on August 7, 2017. Yuri KADOBNOV / AFP.

MOSCOW (AFP).- Russia on Thursday approved the cinema release of a racy film about Tsar Nicholas II's affair with a ballerina, despite protests from opponents and even threats of arson attacks.

Matilda, a film directed by Alexei Uchitel focuses on Nicholas II's historically documented relationship with ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska.

This was before his marriage to Queen Victoria's granddaughter Alexandra Fyodorovna in 1894 and his ascent to the throne that same year.

Due out on October 25, the film has been granted it a 16+ release, the culture ministry said in a statement -- a decision likely to disappoint its critics.

Despite having watched only the trailer, conservative, nationalist and Russian Orthodox protesters have condemned the film, saying Nicholas II must be shown as an "untouchable" holy figure.

In one scene in the trailer, Nicholas is excited by seeing the ballerina's dress come undone on stage, revealing a nipple. In another, they embrace on a bed.

The film seems to have touched a nerve with those who feel Russia is veering too far towards Western values and sexual freedom.

Cossacks and Orthodox activists were among several hundred people who held a public prayer against the film outside a Moscow church last week, holding icons showing the royal family.

One of the film's most vocal critics has been pro-Kremlin MP Natalia Poklonskaya, a former prosecutor in Moscow-annexed Crimea, who has gathered thousands of signatures against the film's release.

Former Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin, now an outspoken blogger, has also denounced the film's depiction of the tsar.

And on Thursday, Chechnya's strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov entered the fray, calling for a ban on the film in his largely Muslim region.

Director Uchitel has refused to alter the film and has even said he hopes for an Oscar nomination.

The Russian Orthodox Church's official position has been to distance itself from the controversy. It has declared Nicholas and his family as saints and holy martyrs.

What are thought to be the bones of two of Nicholas's children are still in boxes in a state archive because the church has refused to recognise their authenticity.

The centenary of the execution by firing squad of Tsar Nicholas and his family at the start of the Russian Revolution falls next year.

© Agence France-Presse

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