Anastasia is a 1956 American historical drama film directed by Anatole Litvak and written by Arthur Laurents. Set in interwar France, the film follows the story of a suicidal amnesiac, whose remarkable resemblance to the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia — the youngest daughter of the late Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, who is rumored to have survived the execution of her family — draws her into a plot devised by the former Russian White General Bounine and his associates to swindle from the Grand Duchess an inheritance of £10 million. However, the ultimate hurdle to their plan is the exiled Russian aristocracy — in particular the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna (Helen Hayes) — whom their handpicked claimant must convince of her legitimacy if they wish for their scheme to succeed.
The origins of Anastasia lie in a play written by Marcelle Maurette, which was in turn inspired by Anna Anderson, the most famous of the many Anastasia impostors who appeared after the death of the Imperial family in July 1918. An animated musical adaptation of Anastasia was released by Fox Animation Studios in 1997, keeping much of Maurette's original storyline.
Though the last Russian tsar and his family were executed in 1918, rumors and suspicions persist that one of his daughters, the Grand Duchess Anastasia, somehow escaped and was still alive. In 1928 Paris, a sickly woman resembling Anastasia is brought to the attention of former Russian General Bounine, now the proprietor of a successful Russian-themed nightclub. Bounine knows that while she was in a mental asylum, she told a nun that she was Anastasia. When approached by Bounine and addressed as the grand duchess, she refuses to have anything to do with him. She flees and tries to throw herself into the River Seine, but is stopped.
Bounine meets with his associates Chernov and Petrovin. It turns out that Bounine had repeatedly raised funds from stockholders (eager to gain a share of £10 million belonging to Anastasia held by an English bank) based on Bounine's claim that he had found the woman, although he makes it clear in private that it is all a scam. Finally, however, the stockholders have lost their patience and given him eight days to produce her.
Bounine arranges for Anna, the amnesiac woman, to be intensively trained to pass herself off as Anastasia. During this time, she and Bounine begin to develop feelings for one another. Later, in a series of carefully arranged encounters with former familiars and members of the imperial court, Anna begins to display a confidence and style that astonish her skeptical interlocutors.
However, the ultimate test Anna must pass is a formidable one. In Copenhagen, she has to convince the highly skeptical dowager empress, Anastasia's grandmother, that she is Anastasia. Meanwhile, Bounine becomes increasingly jealous of the attentions the fortune-hunting Prince Paul pays to Anna. At a grand ball at which Anna's engagement to Paul is to be announced, the dowager empress has a final private conversation with her and, despite being aware of Bounine's machinations, becomes convinced that the woman is really her granddaughter. However, she also realizes that Anna has fallen in love with Bounine and, with her granddaughter's happiness in mind, helps her run away with him. The empress then makes it known that Anna is not Anastasia.
- Ingrid Bergman as Anna Koreff
- Yul Brynner as General Bounine
- Helen Hayes as the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna
- Akim Tamiroff as Boris Adreivich Chernov
- Martita Hunt as Baroness Elena von Livenbaum
- Felix Aylmer as Chamberlain
- Sacha Pitoëff as Piotr Ivanovich Petrovin
- Ivan Desny as Prince Paul von Haraldberg (an invented character)
- Natalie Schafer as Irina Lissemskaia
- Grégoire Gromoff as Stepan
- Karel Stepanek as Mikhail Vlados
- Ina De La Haye as Marusia
- Katherine Kath as Maxime
The film was adapted by Guy Bolton and Arthur Laurents from the play by Bolton and Marcelle Maurette. The structure of the play can still be detected in the static settings and theatrical "scenes" of the cinematic version, which has additional, essentially decorative ball scenes.
While the film does not reveal whether Anna really is the Romanov princess, a series of subtle hints throughout appear to suggest that she is. The gradual realisation of her true identity is juxtaposed with the romantic interest that develops within Bounine, who in one of his speeches declares to Anna/Anastasia that he cares for who she is and not what her name is.
Hayes summons all her stage experience to deliver the celebrated last line, summing up the film's poignant exploration of identity and role-playing. Asked how she will explain the vanishing of her supposed granddaughter to a ballroom full of expectant guests, she declares, "I will tell them that the play is over, go home!" The film closes with the regal figure of the Dowager Empress on the arm of Prince Paul, descending the grand staircase.
The film marked Bergman's return to working for a Hollywood studio after several years working in Italy with her then-husband, Roberto Rossellini. However, Anastasia was entirely made in Europe, with studio interiors at MGM British Studios at Borehamwood, England. The film won her an Academy Award for Best Actress, the second of three Oscars she would receive. The musical score from the film was also nominated for an Academy Award for Original Music Score and was popular after the film's release.
The film was also a comeback for Helen Hayes, as she had suspended her career for several years due to the death of her daughter Mary, and her husband's failing health.
The film was shot in Copenhagen, London and Paris. The Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral is featured in one of the earlier scenes.
Awards and nominations
Ingrid Bergman won the Academy Award for Best Actress, while Alfred Newman was nominated for Best Music, Score of a Dramatic or Musical Picture.