Russia's culture minister has made a rare government intervention in the row over Alexei Uchitel's film Matilda, which tells the story of a romance between Nicholas II, before he became tsar, and a dancer.
Vladimir Medinsky has seen the film and insists there is 'nothing insulting' whatsoever to the tsar, regarded as a martyr by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Matilda is set in the 19th century and is slated for release next month.
Its title refers to the half-Polish dancer Matilda Kshesinskaya, who described the relationship in her memoirs.
Russia's largest operator of movie theatres has already said it will not screen the film amid accusations of 'blasphemy' and threats.
Medinsky, Russia's minister of culture, said the government had tried to refrain from interfering, but his hand has been forced by recent events.
Writing on his Russian ministry website, he says he does not know what has guided those who have started and supported the 'hubbub' around the film. 'Moreover, I am not ready to discern the motivations of the various "activists" who are brazenly calling themselves "Orthodox". I am often reproached for being too conservative. And as a conservative, I want to say: such self-styled "activists" discredit both the state cultural policy and the Church,' he writes.
Orthodoxy is about love, not hatred, he states, suggesting that those protesting the film in the name of the Church are no different from 'fanatics' of the worst manifestations of other faiths.
'And now the hysteria has reached unprecedented heat: public threats, the persecution of film authors, arson, the refusal of some movie networks from the rental – just for security reasons.'
Any controversy about the film is now pointless, he says. 'Personally, I saw the movie. I will not discuss its content – it's just not right until the audience sees it. But I testify: in it there is nothing insulting either for the memory of Nicholas II, or for the history of the Russian monarchy.'
He said: 'The Ministry of Culture issues rolling licences to films strictly according to a lawful procedure. The law clearly describes the grounds for refusal. They are not in the case of Matilda. We are guided by the law, and not by private tastes.'
The Russian news site Vedemosti reports that the most vociferous opponent of the film is the State Duma deputy and former Crimean prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya, who believes that the screening of the film will violate the law, since it offends the feelings of believers.