The truth behind the film: Anastasia

Anastasia is a 1997 20th Century Fox animated film supposedly “based on a true story”.

The film follows Anya, an orphan who suffers from amnesia and doesn’t remember she is the lost Russian princess Anastasia Romanov. Teaming up with conman Dimitri and nobleman Vlad she sets of for Paris to recover her past. This is one of my favourite films and it certainly tells a great story, with Meg Ryan voicing Anya and John Cusack voicing Dimitri. Sadly, however, the historic reality is a lot less romantic.

Duchess Anastasia Romanov was born in 1901 to Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra. She was their fourth child with Anastasia having three older sisters, Olga, Tatiana and Maria, as well as a younger brother, Alexei. They are commonly reported as being a close family. Unfortunately Nicholas was an unsuccessful ruler, with Professor Sergei L. Firsov arguing that “Nicholas II’s view of himself as a divinely appointed tsar clashed with the changing political needs of early twentieth-century Russia”. Problems mounted in Russia, and this came to ahead for Anastasia’s family in 1917 when Nicholas had to abdicate, saying that, “we, in agreement with the State Duma, think it best to abdicate the throne of the Russian State and to lay down the Supreme Power”, with this an explosive event in Russian history. The throne went to Anastasia’s uncle Michael who then abdicated, ending sovereign Romanov rule. They were placed under house arrest, with many calls for severe punishment for the family. Ultimately they were brought to Yekaterinburg and tragically assassinated. The bodies of Anastasia and Alexei were not found for many decades, allowing the formation of the myth of Anastasia, the lost Russian princess, to surface.

Many imposters claimed to be Anastasia, with a famous example being Anna Anderson, who was proved to be a fake by posthumous DNA testing in 1994. The 20th Century Fox film references these imposters, with one scene showing Anastasia’s grandmother the Dowager Empress Maria refusing to see any more people claiming to be her granddaughter. In 2007 the remains of Anastasia and Alexei were discovered and proved to be them through DNA testing, and this largely put to rest the myth of Anastasia. It’s important to bear in mind that the film was made 10 years before this, when the myth of the lost Russian princess was still a possibility. Before the dark events of 1917/1918 Anastasia lived a somewhat charmed life as shown in her letters to her father, for example in November 1916 she writes “…I am writing to you between the classes as usual. Olga’s cat is running about here all the time but now she can be heard as she is wearing a little bell on her neck with a blue ribbon…”. When hearing the voice of Anastasia, it is sad that the legend of her survival is not true. Although in 2014 the Siberian Times reported how Veniamin Alekseyev a, “leading Russian historian” has cast doubt on the DNA analysis due to archival records contradicting the accepted version that the Romanov’s died at Yekaterinburg.

The mystery then looks set to continue, but for now I am going to go make a cup of tea and watch Anastasia, again!

What do you think of this story? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below! 

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Sources

21st Century Fox, Anastasia (1997)

Alexander Palace Time Machine, Manifesto of Nicholas March 15, 1917 (2016) <http://www.alexanderpalace.org/palace/abdicationdocs.html> [Accessed 19 June 2016]

Alexander Palace Time Machine, Diaries and Letters – Letters of Grand Duchess Anastasia: Extracts from the Letters of Anastasia to her Father (2016) <http://www.alexanderpalace.org/palace/adiaries.html> [Accessed 19 June 2016]

Andrews, E, 7 People who Pretended to be Royals (History, 2013) <http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/7-people-who-pretended-to-be-royals> [Accessed 19 June 2016]

Biography.com, Anastasia Biography (2016) <http://www.biography.com/people/anastasia-9184008> [Accessed 14 June 2016]

Coble, M.D. et al., ‘In the News: Romanov Case Closed’, American Scientist , 97 (2009), 205.

Firsov, S. L., ‘Emperor Nicholas II as an Orthodox Tsar’, Russian Studies in History, 50 (2012), 79-90.

History, Feb 06 This Day in History: 1928 Anastasia arrives in the United States <http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/anastasia-arrives-in-the-united-states> [Accessed 19 June 2016]

Maugh, Thomas H., DNA buries Romanov myth: Anastasia and brother died with family (2009) <http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2009-03-11/news/0903100646_1_romanov-family-romanov-rule-buries> [Accessed 19 June 2016]

The Siberian Times, Respected historian suggests ‘lost’ Russian princess Anastasia fled to America (2014) < http://siberiantimes.com/other/others/features/respected-historian-suggests-lost-russian-princess-anastasia-fled-to-america/> [Accessed 19 June]

Steinberg, M.D. and Vladimir M. Khrustalëv, The Fall of the Romanovs: Political Dreams and Personal Struggles in a Time of Revolution (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997)

TIME Magazine, Top 10 Imposters: Anne Anderson <http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1900621_1900618_1900620,00.html> [Accessed 19 June 2016]

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