Born in 1530, to the second wife of Vasily III, Ivan had Greek origins although his mother was from the line of Khan Mamay of the Golden Horde and his father, Vasily III, was descended from one of the Khan's enemies. Ivan became Tsar at the age of three although power was held by regents. He and his brother were treated harshly when not in public and, as a result, Ivan began to treat others badly too, torturing animals, running down peasants with his horse; thus learning this cruel side of ruling at an early age.
The story begins with Ivan's coronation at the age of sixteen. One month later he marries Anastasia, a Russian girl from the Romanov family. The nobles try to overthrow him but without success. He seeks to break the coalitions of neighbouring states and to expand his power eastward and, in 1552, with 100,000 men and 150 canon he advances on Kazan which was taken after months of fighting although he does not advance further east. Ivan becomes ill in 1553 and is told that he will die. He tries to force the boyars, who are headed by his aunt Euphrosinia, swear allegiance to his son who is not yet one year old, but they refuse. This outrages Ivan. In 1560, during a period of consolidation of power against the boyars, Anastasia is poisoned. This causes Ivan to retreat to his estate outside Moscow. As a result of a pilgrimage to this country retreat by the populace of Moscow, Ivan is persuaded to return to the city. Taking advantage of this mass support, he now has the backing to make his rule more powerful and decisive than ever. He develops his own secret police force, the Oprichniks, who became his main instrument of terror and assisted him by obtaining undercover information and also doing his evil bidding exacting a terrible revenge on the aristocracy. After learning that Anastasia was probably poisoned by his aunt Euphrosinia who was in league with the boyars, he embarks upon a massive campaign of reprisals and terror.
This complex story, made by Eisenstein after two years' research, is full of intrigue, high level political in-fighting, family resentment and suspicion, an assassination plot, executions and murder. Two reels of Part 2 were filmed in colour.
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