For more than a century, the fate of the Anastasia Romanov has remained a mystery. Was she murdered with her family in 1918? Or did she find a way to escape the massacre?
Ariel Lawhorn‘s 2018 novel, I was Anastasia, both asks and answers this question. It starts in the late 1960’s with a woman named Anna Anderson. The press has been hounding her, determined to get the truth from her. The book then flashes back and forth through time from the end of the Romanov rule to the 1920’s when a young woman is pulled from a canal. Though she claims to be Anastasia, there are many who believe her to be a con artist, a mental patient, or both.
The best word to describe this book was promise. It is a promise that failed. The ending was confusing and the author did not provide the response to the question she posed at the beggining of the novel.
*Warning: this post contains spoilers read at your own risk.
On November 21st, 1997, the animated film Anastasia hit theaters.
Loosely based on the myth that Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia somehow survived the murder of her family in 1918, Anya (voiced by Meg Ryan) is an orphan who wants nothing more to find her family. Two con men, Dimitri (voiced by John Cusack) and Vladimir (Kelsey Grammer) convince her that she is Anastasia. Unbeknownst to Anya, there is a reward for the safe return of the grand duchess to her grandmother, The Dowager Empress Marie (voiced by Angela Lansbury). Neither Dimitri or Vladimir had any plans of splitting the reward with Anya, if she is believed to be Anastasia.
While this is happening, Rasputin (voiced by Christopher Lloyd) has risen from the dead and is eager to finish what he started ten years ago.
I look at this film, as I do its 1956 predecessor starring Yul Brynner and Ingrid Bergman, as a what if version of history. Especially in regards to the fact that Anastasia and Dimitri lived happily ever after. Marriages between commoners and royalty did not happen in that period.
Granted, the remains of all of the Romanovs were not found and made saints of the Russian Orthodox Church until after this film came out. This left wiggle room for the screenwriters to use the myth of the surviving Anastasia as the skeleton of the narrative.
As a narrative loosely based on a myth, it’s a reasonably good film. But to hold it up as historical fact requires a bit too much for me.
On the 17th of July in 1918, Tsar Nicholas the II, the last Tsar of Imperial Russia was murdered with his family and a few loyal servants by the soldiers of the Communist party.
On that day, a legend was born. The legend stated that the Tsar’s youngest daughter, Anastasia survived the massacre of her family. Escaping her prison, she took on a new identity and slipped into history.
Over the years, Hollywood has tried to tell the story of how Anastasia anonymously survived into adulthood.
Anastasia (voiced by Meg Ryan) is an orphan. Taking up with two con men, Dimitri (voiced by John Cusack) and Vladmir (Kelsey Grammar), Anastasia has one goal. She has to convince the Dowager Empress (voiced by Angela Lansbury), that she is her granddaughter. A wrench is thrown into the mix when Rasputin (voiced by Christopher Lloyd) sees his chance to finally destroy the last of the Romanov’s.
In 1956, another film tried to tell the story. General Bounine (Yul Brynner) tries to pass Anna Koreff (Ingrid Bergman) off as the vanished grand duchess. The con becomes problematic when the ruse becomes too convincing.
Do I recommend them? The problem with a story like Anastasia is that there is often more fiction than fact. Hollywood, in its attempt to bring in audiences, may smudge known history to compile what they hope to be a compelling story.
To answer the question, my answer is maybe, for both.