Friday, May 7, 2010

Will the real Anastasia please stand up?

Anastasia (1956)
Director: Anatole Litvak
Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Yul Brynner, Helen Hayes
Released: 12/13/56

Oscar nominations:
Best Actress - Ingrid Bergman (won)
Best Score - Alfred Newman (lost to Victor Young for Around the World in 80 Days)

Anastasia (1997)
Directors: Don Bluth and Gary Goldman
Voice Talent: Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Angela Lansbury, Kelsey Grammar, Christopher Lloyd
Released: 11/21/97

Oscar nominations:
Best Original Musical or Comedy Score (lost to The Full Monty) Do they even still have this category?
Best Song - "Journey to the Past" (lost to "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic)

I have to admit, even though I did see the animated Anastasia film in the theaters, I was not very familiar with the story of the Romanovs until I recently listened to a Podcast about them, found their story quite fascinating and put these two movies in my Netflix queue.

If you're not familiar with Anastasia's story, here is a quick overview of it with help from the Podcast, Wikipedia, and notes I scribbled down while watching her Biography. She was born in 1901, the youngest daughter of Nicholas II, the Russian Tsar.  Her official title was  Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia. Being born into a royal family, she resided in a palace with over a thousand rooms. (Dang, can you imagine if you had to be the interior designer for that place??)  In 1914 her father declared war on Germany and Austria and during his reign, Imperial Russia went from being a great world power to an economic and miliatry failure - 80% of his subjects were in poverty. The country became corrupt and Nicholas was blamed for everything wrong with Russia.  Let's just say he wasn't one of the best world rulers from history. The Romanovs fell completely out of power and Nicholas abdicated the throne in 1917 and his family and their loyal servants (eleven people in all) were placed under house arrest at the Alexadner Palace during the Russian Revolution. The Bolsheviks were now in power of Russia and they had to choose between murdering or exiling the family and wanting to take no chances of the Romanovs ever becoming in power again, they choose the former and murder the entire family in a small room in the palace in 1918.
However, it's leaked in the papers that not everyone died that fateful night and many people believe that there may be some survivors, especially that of Anastasia. In 1920 a woman who is about to commit suicide by throwing herself in a river in Berlin in rescued. She is mentally unstable and doesn't speak for weeks and has no identity. Coincidentally she has the same eye color, identical ears, and foot disorder the real Anastasia had and recognized people in photos that only Anastasia would know. However, despite all that, she failed to prove she really was the Grand Duchess by the German courts. The woman went by the name Anna Anderson and her claim to be Anastasia became known around the world and there was still speculation about was she or wasn't she? Turns out she was just a mentally disturbed woman who spent most of her life in asylums. Her DNA did not match that of the real Anastasia and in 1991 Nicholas and his three oldest daughters were exhumed from where they were believed to be burned and buried. In 2007 the body of Anastasia and her little brother were found quickly putting any claims that Anna Anderson really was Anastasia to rest.

Okay, I guess that wasn't that quick!

So while the real Anastasia perished along with her family and did not escape and live her life under the alias Anna Anderson, Hollywood still found her story fascinating and thought it made a great movie, which it does. Imagine not knowing where you came from and learn someday that you are from royal descent! Both movies follow the same plotline, beginning with Anastasia not knowing who she is or where she came from and wanting to have a sense of belonging. Both versions meet a man (who she'll eventually fall in love with...spoiler alert! ) who is trying to find someone they can teach to learn everything about Anastasia because her grandmother is offering anyone who finds her granddaughter a hefty cash prize. He is pleased when he finds this woman who could physically pass for the real Grand Duchess and teachers her everything she needs to know...while she begins to remember things on her own, because she really IS Anastasia and everything is coming back to her. She proves herself to her grandmother and a tearful reunion ensues and both movies end on a happy note. The animated film has musical numbers (I have the soundtrack and I LOVE "At the Beginning" and "Journey to the Past") and a villain with a campy sidetrick who is trying to kill Anastasia because he thought he had murdered all of the Romanovs. I loved the set decoration of the '56 version with all the antique European-style furniture.

The movies may have been based on something that happened in Russian history, but have been deemed fictitious, but nevertheless still a good story to tell even though it was only a fairy tale.


  1. I hated the 1956 version and I thought that Ingrid was just terrible. But I love the animated version!

  2. Yeah, I was surprised when I found out Bergman won the Oscar because I didn't think she was that great.