A woman holds an icon of the canonised last Russian tsar Nicholas II and a sign reading "stop Matilda" during a protest against a new movie about his relationship with a ballerina
MOSCOW - 12 Sep 2017: Russia's biggest movie theatre chain said Tuesday it was dropping from its lineup a film about an affair between tsar Nicholas II and a ballerina after hardline activists threatened violence against any theatre screening it.
"Matilda", a film directed by Alexei Uchitel, focuses on Russia's last tsar Nicholas II's historically documented relationship with ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska.
Aleksandra Artamonova, a spokeswoman for the Cinema Park and Formula Kino chains, told AFP that a decision had been made not to screen "Matilda" due to "threats that movie theatres have recently been receiving from critics of the film."
Months leading up to the release of the film -- due out in late October -- have been marked by protests of nationalist and Russian Orthodox activists who have condemned the biopic, saying Nicholas II must be shown as an untouchable holy figure.
Bolsheviks executed by firing squad tsar Nicholas and his family in 1918, ending the Romanov dynasty.
The Russian Orthodox Church has declared them saints and holy martyrs.
The film's most vocal critic has been 37-year-old pro-Kremlin lawmaker Natalia Poklonskaya, a former prosecutor in Moscow-annexed Crimea, who has gathered thousands of signatures against the film's release.
Roman Linin, general director of the merged movie theatre chain, said the cancellation of the screening was a "forced decision".
"The safety of our audience remains our priority," he said in a statement released Tuesday.
The combined chain operates 75 movie theatres in 28 Russian cities.
Last week Uchitel's studio in the former imperial capital Saint Petersburg was attacked with Molotov cocktails, forcing the director to appeal to the FSB security service and the interior ministry for help.
The Russian Orthodox Church has for the past months distanced itself from the controversy but moved to denounce the acts of violence on Tuesday.
"We condemned, condemn and will condemn the actions of pseudoreligious radicals no matter what religion they use as a cover," spokesman Vladimir Legoida said in a statement.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has recently also entered the fray, calling for a ban on the film in his largely Muslim region.
Uchitel has refused to alter the film and has even said he hopes for an Oscar nomination.
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.