Anastasia (1956)

Directed by Anatole Litvak

It may be true of every century, but it certainly seems as if the 20th century was one of extremes and spectacle. World wars, nuclear bombs, and revolutions. The most riveting of the latter was the Russian Revolution. For the West, there is an air of mystery and barbarism to it which, I think, grows from the facts of the revolution and the rumours, or folk stories. They are all mixed into one and, for the average person, are rarely separated.

One of the most intriguing of the folk tales that grew out of the Russian Revolution was the end of the Romanov dynasty. The Tsar and his family were taken to a basement somewhere in Russia and executed. The story of the Romanovs itself is a hodge podge of fact and folk tale (including the character of Rasputin), but one of the most enduring of the myths was that of Anastasia, the Tzar’s youngest daughter. Did she die or did she live?

While there is as yet no definitive evidence one way or the other, it is extremely unlikely she escaped. Despite this, the myth of Anastasia persisted throughout the 20th century. It was augmented and fed, to some degree, by the mysterious Anna Anderson, a woman who appeared in a German hospital one day and around whom grew the idea that she was the missing Anastasia.

All of this leads to the 1956 movie, Anastasia. Given the popularity of the story, it was inevitable that Hollywood would try putting it on screen. And they did. This version of the story was based on a play which itself was loosely based (very loosely based) on the Anderson story.

And what did Hollywood come up with?

The movie is an intriguing, sumptuous production starring Ingrid Bergman as Anastasia in a wonderfully precise performance, though a bit stagy in some instances.

The story can’t help but be interesting. To this extent, it was hard for the filmmakers to go wrong. But they do take an interesting tack on the story. Rather than do a story about the lost daughter trying to regaining her identity and place, it focuses on the characters who are trying to foist a false Anastasia on everyone and thereby falsely claim the Romanov millions. The twist they give this version is the suggestion that the woman these fraud artists are using may actually be the real Anastasia … the story is vague throughout on this, deliberately.

It makes for an intriguing and engaging film. There is also some beautiful cinematography here, as well as gorgeous sets. On my copy of the DVD there were some sound problems, but generally this too is rich and full-bodied (sounds like coffee), though some dialogue seems to get buried by the music soundtrack.

The one aspect of the film that doesn’t work well is the relationship between Bergman and Yul Brenner, who plays the a Russian general trying to teach her how to be Anastasia. It’s intended to develop into a romantic relationship but the chemistry just isn’t there, which means the film’s ending sounds a false note.

All in all, however, Anastasia is an interesting, beautifully photographed movie and very nicely presented on disc as a restored classic. The DVD also contains a Biography installment on the real Anastasia and the existing facts of what really happened.

2 1/2 stars out of 4.

(Originally posted 2003.)

2 Responses

  1. Saw Anastasia recently on DVD. Having had good memories of it as a boy, and being a sucker for identity-mysteries, not least the kind with a ‘real’ historical edge, I was prepared for a delight, if one aging in style.

    Wow. Time to start purging the old memories. There was one thing worth watching this for: Ingrid Bergman. She’s actually not my ‘type’, when you get right down to it, but there is something vulnerable and teary and facially well-chiseled about her that never lets down a camera.

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