When I was a child, the movie Anastasia was constantly playing on my Barbie t.v. Now, as I watch it with a basic understanding of Russian history, I realize the movie is really a representation of a common 20th century Russian conspiracy theory.
During the Russian Revolution, Czar Nicholas II abdicated from the throne and took his family into hiding. The family was executed but many believed that one of the Czar's daughters, Anastasia, had escaped and fled. Many people attempted to impersonate the Grand Duchess and one, Anna Anderson, had her case heard by German Courts. After testing her DNA, it was reported that she had no relation to the royal family. It wasn't until 2009 that Anastasia's remains had been officially identified and tested.
This is a quick summary of the movie:
In 1916, Tsar Nicholas II hosts a ball at the Catherine Palace to celebrate the Romanov tricentennial. His mother, the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, is visiting from Paris and gives a music box and a necklace inscribed with the words “Together in Paris” as parting gifts to her youngest granddaughter, eight-year-old Grand Duchess Anastasia. The ball is suddenly interrupted by Grigori Rasputin, a sorcerer who was banished by the Tsar for treason. Rasputin sells his soul in exchange for an unholy reliquary, which he uses to place a curse on the Romanov family, sparking the Russian Revolution. Only Marie and Anastasia are able to escape the siege of the palace, thanks to a young servant boy named Dimitri, who shows them a secret passageway in Anastasia's room. Rasputin confronts the two royals outside, only to fall through the ice and freeze to death. The pair manage to reach a moving train, but only Marie climbs aboard while Anastasia falls, hitting her head on the platform.
Ten years later, Russia is under communist rule, and Marie has publicly offered 10 million rubles for the safe return of her granddaughter. Two con men, Dimitri and his friend and partner Vladimir thus search for an Anastasia lookalike to present to Marie in Paris and collect the reward. Elsewhere, Anastasia, now using the name "Anya", leaves the rural orphanage where she grew up, having lost her memory prior to arriving there. Accompanied by a stray puppy she names "Pooka", she turns down a job at a fish factory in favor of going to Saint Petersburg after her necklace inspires her to seek out her family in Paris. In the deserted palace she encounters Dimitri and Vladimir, who—impressed by her resemblance to the "real" Anastasia—decide to take her with them.
Bartok, Rasputin's albino bat minion is nearby and notices his master's dormant reliquary suddenly revived by Anastasia's presence; it drags him to limbo, where the soul of Rasputin survives. Enraged to hear that Anastasia escaped the curse, Rasputin sends demonic spirits from the reliquary to kill her; despite two attempts, the trio manage to (unwittingly) foil him, forcing Rasputin and Bartok to travel back to the surface.
Anastasia, Dimitri, and Vladimir eventually reach Paris and go to meet Marie, who refuses to see her, having been nearly fooled numerous times before by impostors. Despite this, Sophie—Marie's cousin—quizzes Anastasia to confirm her identity. Dimitri and Vladimir had taught Anastasia all the answers, but when Anastasia independently (though dimly) recalls how Dimitri saved her ten years ago, Dimitri finally realizes that she is the real Grand Duchess, and later informs Vladimir at the Russian Ballet. Dimitri, however, insists they do not reveal this truth to Anastasia. Sophie, convinced as well, arranges for Anastasia to meet Marie after a Russian ballet. However, Marie wants nothing to do with Dimitri, having heard of him and his initial scheme to lie to her. As Anastasia overhears that Dimitri was using her all along, she then slaps him across the face and storms out. Dimitri, having fallen in love with Anastasia, manages to change Marie's mind by presenting her with Anastasia's music box, which he had found after their escape. Anastasia's memory returns upon meeting Marie, and grandmother and granddaughter are reunited at long last.
The next day, Marie offers Dimitri the reward money, but to her surprise he refuses it and leaves for Russia, convinced that he cannot be with Anastasia. That night, at Anastasia's return celebration, Marie informs her of Dimitri's gesture and leaves her to her thoughts. Anastasia then wanders through a garden and onto the Pont Alexandre III, where she is trapped and attacked by Rasputin. Dimitri returns to save her, but is injured and knocked unconscious. Anastasia manages to kill Rasputin by crushing the reliquary under her foot, avenging her family. With Rasputin's soul having been tied to the reliquary, he promptly dies and dissolves.
Afterwards, Dimitri and Anastasia reconcile; the two then elope and Anastasia sends a farewell letter to Marie and Sophie, promising to return one day. The film ends with the couple finally kissing on a riverboat, and Bartok shares a kiss with a female bat.
Discrepancies with Actual History
The Czar's mother is not mentioned in connection to the murder or even rumors of Anastasia's escape. There is no jewelry box, locket, or mention of fleeing to Paris anywhere in history. The family had been in hiding for many years during the Bolshevik revolution and was not overthrown by Rasputin at a ball in any palace.
It is important to note that this movie was produced in 1997, before Anastasia's body had been found and confirmed. There was still a lingering hope that the Duchess had escaped execution and had lived a happy life. History now confirms that Anastasia was, in fact, murdered a long with the rest of her family, though it is unclear how she was killed. The guard that wrote about killing her was inebriated that the time of the attack and though he said he shot her in the head, there are not bullet holes or any kind of damage to the scull for that matter. There will always be an air of mystery as to what happened to the youngest daughter of Czar Nicholas II but unlike the movie, we know she did not live past 17 years old.