The screenplay is based on the 13th century conflict between the Teutonic Knights and the Russian people of Novgorod. The film follows the knights as they invade Pskov and massacre its population. Alexander Nevsky then rallies the people of Novgorod and at a battle on the surface of the frozen Lake Chud the outnumbered Novgorodians defeat the Germanic invaders. Setting this historical defeat of Germans by Russians to film was a not so subtle prophecy that history was about to repeat itself.
The film was requested of Eisenstein directly by Stalin who wanted a film that would warn the Soviet people of German aggression. The film contains many elements that reflect the current global political situation. The helmets worn by the Teutonic soldiers look much like larger German soldier helmets from the period. Swastikas are also to be found decorating many of the Teutons. The film also shows Nevsky making peace with his old enemies the Mongols in order to face the knights, hinting at the necessity of making peace with the western powers to deal with Nazi Germany.
Unfortunately the film was released moments before Stalin agreed to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact creating a Nazi-Soviet alliance. The film was supressed and not shown in theaters. This changed dramatically in 1941 after the German attack on the Soviet Union and Stalin ordered the film to be shown in every Soviet cinema.
The film is far more than Stalinist propaganda. Eisenstein, still regarded as one of history's greatest film makers, used all his abilities to produce another acclaimed picture. The film is far more western than any of his previous works, it tells one story with a single narrative arc and focuses on one main character. The special effects and cinematography were some of the most advanced ever. The film is the first of Eisenstein's to use sound. The film score is composed by Sergei Prokofiev, who later reworked the score into a concert cantata. Eisenstein developed dramatic new methods of mixing music and visuals. The entire film culminates in the half hour battle scene set to Prokofiev's pounding score, a scene that has been the model for most epic battle scenes to have come since.