Fearsome Fairy Tales

3. Anastasia

Anastasia, “everyone’s favourite Disney Princess who isn’t actually a Disney Princess”. Unlike the rest of the animated films on this list, Anastasiais not based on an old folk tale but half on historical fact and half on urban legend.

The Film

The film Anastasia follows the story of the Romanov family, the last imperial family of Russia. In the year 1916, the Romanov family are celebrating their tercentenary with a ball at the Catherine Palace in St Petersburg. Anastasia is the Grand Duchess, the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra, she is very close to her grandmother the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna who is due to return to Paris after the celebrations. Their celebrations are interrupted by Rasputin, a sorcerer who was banished Tsar Nicolas II for treason, Rasputin has sold his soul for reliquary which he uses to put a curse on the Romanovs and thus sparks the Russian Revolution.

Only Anastasia and her grandmother Marie are able to escape the palace through a secret passageway shown to them by kitchen boy Dimitri, the rest of the family Nicholas, Alexandra, Anastasia’s older sisters Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana and Maria, and younger brother Tsarevich Alexei are all killed through Rasputin’s curse. Rasputin finds Anastasia and Marie outside the palace but falls through the ice and freezes to death before he can kill them and they escape to the train station. Marie manages to board a moving train but Anastasia slips, banging her head on the platform.

Fast forward 10 years, Russia is under communist rule and Anastasia is now 18 years old, going by the name of Anya with no memory of her life before she was 8 apart from a necklace saying “Together in Paris”, and is travelling from the orphanage she grew up in to a job in a fishing village. She finds a stray puppy while waiting for a sign (the fishing village or St Petersburg) and decides to go to St Petersburg and take a train to Paris to seek out her family. She finds Dimitri at the Catherine Palace which has now fallen into disrepair, hoping he will be able to sort her some travel documents. Instead Dimitri and his business partner Vladimir, who have been auditioning girls to be Anastasia as they want the 10 million rubbles the Dowager Empress is offering for her grand daughters’ return, notice her resemblance to the Grand Duchess Anastasia. They convince Anya to go to Paris with them and present herself as Anastasia.

As the trio leave the palace, Bartok, an albino bat and sidekick of Rasputin’s notices his reliquary has come back to life and it drags Bartok to purgatory when Rasputin has been languishing for the past 10 years. In limbo Rasputin realises that Anastasia is still alive and that is why he cannot rest, he releases his minions from the reliquary to kill her. However Anastasia, Dimitri and Vladimir manage to survive the minions’ attempts on their lives and eventually make it to Paris, this forces Rasputin to the surface to kill Anastasia himself.

When they reach Paris Marie refuses to see Anastasia as she has seen too many imposters and does not wish to have her heart broken again. But Marie’s cousin Sophie does question Anastasia, remembering the information Dimtri and Vladimir taught her, but when she recalls the story of how a boy who worked at the palace helped her escape the palace (not realising that Dimitri was that boy), Dimitri realises she is the real Anastasia, but still Marie refuses to see her.

That night they attend the Russian Ballet in the hopes that Marie will see Anastasia and recognise her, instead she meets Dimitri and tells his she knows of his scheme to get his hands on the reward money by auditioning girls at the Catherine Palace. Anastasia overhears this and storms out leaving Dimitri, who has now fallen in love with Anastasia, he convinces Marie to meet with Anastasia by presenting her with Anastasia’s music box. That night Marie and Anastasia are reunited and Anastasia’s memory returns to her.

The next day Marie offers Dimitri the reward money but he refuses and says he is returning to St Petersburg convinced he cannot he with Anastasia. That night at the ball Marie tells Anastasia Dimitri has left and as Anastasia wanders outside pondering over his actions she is attacked by Rasputin. Bartok abandons Rasputin and Dimitri returns to save Anastasia but is injured, she manages to defeat Rasputin by crushing the reliquary, avenging her family and killing Rasputin.

Anastasia and Dimitri reconcile and elope, promising Marie and Sophie to return soon, the film ends with the couple on a riverboat, while Bartok meets a lady albino bat.

 The Real Anastasia 

The beginning of film is based very loosely on the story of the Romanovs, the last imperial family of Russia, but the whole family were murdered together by the Bolsheviks in 1918 in Yekaterinburg.

However the bodies of two children, Alexei and one of his sisters were not buried with the rest of the family, (so that if the White Movement found the bodies of the royal family they would be thrown off as the body count would be wrong) and an urban legend was born that Anastasia escaped and did not die with her family. Over the years there were many women claim to be the missing duchess Anastasia, most famously Anna Anderson, who publicly claimed to be Anastasia in the early 1920s, her legal battle for recognition as Anastasia lasted until 1970 and was the longest running legal battle the German courts (where the claim was first filed) had ever heard.

In 1991 the bodies of the royal family, minus Alexei and his sister, were exhumed and formally identified, and in 1998 they were then given state funerals. The burial site had been found almost a decade earlier but was kept hidden whilst Russia was still under communist rule. The bodies were laid to rest with full state honours in the St. Catherine Chapel of the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St Petersburg. The three Grand Duchesses interred in 1998 were Olga, Tatiana and either Maria or Anastasia, and there has been much debate over which daughter was found with the family and which was found with Alexei. Russian experts believe Maria was the missing Duchess, whilst American experts claim it was Anastasia who was missing, which is the commonly held view as the urban legend of the escaping Romanov daughter surrounds Anastasia not her sister.

It wasn’t until 2007 when the two partially cremated bodies of Alexei and his sister were found at an old bonfire site near Yekaterinburg and identified as Alexei and the missing sister. Whilst DNA testing can prove all four bodies are the Romanov daughters, they cannot conclusively prove whether it was Maria or Anastasia who was buried with Alexei. But it did prove that the whole family died together and that none of the duchesses escaped.

The character of Rasputin is also based upon a historical figure, that of Grigori Rasputin, a mystic, faith healer, advisor to the Romanov family and an influential figure in St Petersburg. He developed a close relationship with Tsarina Alexandra while she ruled in place of Tsar Nicholas who had left St Petersburg for the Eastern Front. Both the left and the right came to see Rasputin as one of the root causes of Russia’s struggles during World War I. He died in December 1916, his cause of death was ruled as homicide and died from gunshot wounds to his head. The life and death of Rasputin is still shrouded in mystery as accounts are based on dubious memoirs and gossip, and many myths and legends have sprung up about him. One thing is for certain though, he didn’t have an albino bat sidekick named Bartok!

Kat Lawson
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