Audio Drama Wiki

Alexander Nevsky is a radio play by Louis MacNeice, based on the 1938 film by Sergei Eisenstein. 60 minutes in length, it was first broadcast on BBC Radio on 08 December 1941. It was MacNeice's first play for the medium[1].

The first broadcast of the play starred noted film actor Robert Donat. It was subsequently repeated in 26 April 1942 with Michael Redgrave in the lead role, and on 22 June 1944, to commemorate the anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, with James McKechnie starring[2].


Historical drama set in 13th century Russia. The Teutonic Knights of the Holy Roman Empire invade Novgorod, and are defeated by Prince Alexander.


  • Alexander Nevsky - Robert Donat


  • Peggy Ashcroft
  • Alan Wheatley
  • Leon Quatermain
  • Ernest Thesiger
  • Mark Dignam

  • Music by Sergei Prokofiev
  • Conducted yb Sir Adiran Boult
  • Directed by Dallas Bower

Production History[]

As part of the war effort in 1941, BBC radio wanted to commission broadcasts with a pro-Russian theme. The Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June of that year made the initiative even more urgent[3].

Dallas Bower, a television engineer who later worked in the film industry, suggested a radio adaptation of Sergei Eisenstein's film, Alexander Nevsky. Bower greatly admired Eisenstein's work, and had even used a copy of the film to train BBC camera operators[4]. Louis MacNeice, who had already produced two radio features about Anton Chekov for the BBC earlier that year, was a natural match for the material. Bower persuaded him to write the project. MacNeice viewed the film and proceeded to write a script in verse, linking dramatic sequences with the rousing score by Prokofiev.

Bower set out to undertake an ambitious broadcasting feat. Nevsky was the first attempt by the BBC to use an "open" studio rather than a series of smaller live studios[5]. The broadcast took place in the Great Hall of Bedford School, and featured the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, as well as the BBC Chorus and Theatre Chorus. A new film-recording system recorded the broadcast.

On 08 December, 1941. Alexander Nevsky was slated for broadcast immediately following the 9 o'clock news, with an introduction recorded by Soviet ambassador Ivan Maisky. A special news bulletin delayed the performance, announcing that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor the preceding day, and that the United States had entered World War II. Remarks from Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt preceded Maisky's introduction, lending the event even greater dramatic context[6].

The play was a great success, with critics praising MacNeice's poetic verse dramatization. It was subsequently repeated, with different lead actors, in 1942 and 1944. The popularity of the play ensured that Bower and MacNeice were asked to contribute another high-profile piece the following year. The resulting play, Christopher Columbus was broadcast in 1942 to commemorate the 450th anniversary of the discovery of America. Composer William Walton, who had been greatly impressed by the broadcast of Nevsky, provided the score[7].


  1. [1]
  3. [2]
  4. LaValley, Albert J. and Scherr, Barry P. Eisenstein at 100: a reconsideration. Rutgers University Press 2001
  5. Drakakis, John (editor). British Radio Drama. Cambridge University Press 1981.
  6. [3]
  7. Lloyd, Stephen. William Walton - Muse of Fire. The Boydell Press 2001