How Accurate Is 'Anastasia'? Its Lack of Facts Might Actually Shock You
The mystery and myth surrounding the life (and death) of Anastasia Romanov sounds straight out of a movie, but, even still, the 1997 animated film decided to take creative liberties with her story. On the 20th anniversary of Anastasia, though, the question is how many liberties? After fact-checking Anastasia, it's clear that the animated film took creative liberties and then some.
It’s not just the little details that the animated movie fudges, but the big ones, too. For starters, the true story of Anastasia, the daughter of Russian Tsar Nicholas II, doesn't end happily ever after, but in tragedy. In 1918, the young heiress was murdered alongside her entire family. Many people hoped that Anastasia had escaped, being that at the time of the assassination the Russian government never confirmed the deaths of the tsar's five children.
Adding to the mystery was the fact that many young women claimed to be the real Anastasia. This movie is actually based on Anna Anderson, who was the most infamous Anastasia imposter, which means the film was actually built on a lie. One, that would be debunked in 2009 thanks to DNA evidence, which proved that Anastasia's body was buried alongside the rest of her family. She had not escaped, but had lost her life too soon.
The real story of Anastasia is a tragic one that doesn't seem fit for a feel-good family movie, yet, with a few changes it does. So, let's take a look at what's fact vs. fiction in Anastasia.
Fiction: The 300th Anniversary Of Romanov Reign
The movie begins with this celebration, but unfortunately, it gets the date wrong by three years. In 1913 the Romanovs celebrated 300 years on Russia’s throne. The family ruled for a total of 304 years, until Nicholas II abdicated the throne and was exiled to Siberia with his family.
Fact: Anastasia Was Tsar Nicholas II’s Youngest Daughter
Tsar Nicholas II had four daughters, Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and his youngest, Anastasia. The tsar also had a son named Alexei who was his youngest child and his only son. Alexei was three years younger than Anastasia and the official heir to the throne.
Fiction: Rasputin Was An Enemy Of The Romanovs
While Grigori Rasputin is depicted as an enemy and a traitor to the Romanovs in the film, IRL the controversial holy man, was a friend and advisor to Tsar Nicholas II, who urged him to look for peaceful resolutions with his enemies.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, Rasputin was known as a healer, who helped Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra’s only son Alexei’s hemophilia. Whether Rasputin, nicknamed the “Mad Monk,” really had powers is disputable. In the 2016 book, Rasputin: Faith, Power and the Twilight of the Romanovs, author Douglas Smith wrote that it was Rasputin’s confidence that helped the young boy. “Rasputin’s assurances calmed the anxious, fretful mother and filled her with unshakeable confidence,” he wrote, “and she, in turn, transferred this confidence to her ailing son, literally willing him back to health.”
Rasputin, who had a reputation for being a promiscuous, heavy-drinker, may have had some psychic powers, though. According to RT, Rasputin sent a letter to Nicholas in 1916 predicting his own death at the hands of a member of the Romanov family. This ended up being true: Rasputin was killed in 1916, murdered by Felix Yusupov, the husband of Tsar Nicholas II’s only niece, a Romanov by marriage. It was deemed an act of patriotism being that many Russians thought Rasputin was a bad influence on the tzar. But, The Odyssey questions whether this letter from Rasputin actually existed. As of now, the letter has not been found, perhaps because it was lost or maybe, it was never written.
What is true, though, is that Rasputin and the Romanovs had a close relationship. Moviepilot reported that after the Romanovs were executed, Anastasia and her sisters were found wearing necklaces with Rasputin’s picture.
Fact: Anastasia’s Music Box
The real Anastasia did receive a music box from the Grand Duchess, according to The Odyssey. But, unlike the one in the movie, hers was “plain and silver.” For those that prefer the movie Anastasia’s beautiful gold embellished music box, which plays “Once Upon A December,” you can buy one on Amazon for $85.
Fiction: “Rumor In St. Petersburg”
The movie takes place in the 1920’s when St. Petersburg wasn’t actually called St. Petersburg. In 1914, the city was called Petrograd and was then renamed again to become Leningrad in 1924. It would remain that way until 1945 when the city formerly known as St. Petersburg became St. Petersburg once more. While factually inaccurate, let’s be honest, neither of those others names have quite the same ring to it.
Fiction: The Romanovs Were Killed By Rasputin
In the film, Rasputin is said to be “consumed by his hatred” for the Romanovs and sells his soul to make sure they don’t live to see another day. He puts a curse on them, which leads to a Russian uprising that ends up killing the family. But, in actuality, the Romanovs were not killed by Rasputin, they were killed by Bolshevik troops in 1918.
According to Biography, the Romanov family were told to get dressed and come down to the basement of the house where they were living so that they could escape the counter revolutionaries that were allegedly there to hurt them. They thought they were being protected, but instead, the deposed tsar, who had become known as the “bloody tyrant,” and his family were met with executioners who killed them under orders of the Supreme Soviet council of Russia led by Vladimir Lenin.
Town and County reported that the Romanov massacre ended the political career of the family, but it began this mystery that the movie focuses on. The bodies of those killed that night, which included Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, his five children, and four servants, were “buried in two unmarked graves, the locations of which were kept secret by Soviet leaders.”
Not knowing who was buried led the Russian people to question whether members of the family were able to get away. There were rumors that Anastasia was protected from the bullets thanks to the jewels she had hidden in her coat. It was a mystery that wouldn’t be solved until 2009 when DNA testing proved that all of the tsar’s children had been killed on that tragic day.
Fiction: Anastasia’s Grandmother Was Looking For Her
Anastasia’s grandmother, Dowager Empress Marie was not present on the night the Romanovs were killed, which is why she didn’t initially believe that her family had been murdered. According to Movie Pilot, she allegedly wrote in her diary: “I am sure they all got out of Russia and now the Bolsheviks are trying to hide the truth.”
Dowager Empress Marie had reason to believe this since only the death of Nicholas II was confirmed by the Russian government. While she reportedly always hoped that her family had survived, unlike the movie, she never put up a reward to find them. She also never spoke publicly of the tragedy or met with any of the Anastasia imposters. A decade after Anastasia and her family were killed, Marie died at the age of 80. It’s unclear whether or not she ever believed that her family had been murdered.
Fiction: Anastasia Is The Heir To The Russian Throne
Unfortunately, Anastasia would never have been the rightful heir to the throne. It was always her younger brother Alexei who would have inherited the position. According to Town and Country, Anastasia’s birth was met with disappointment from the Russian court being that only a son could be the successor to Tsar Nicholas II.
While Alexei’s birth meant there was a successor, the fact that he suffered from hemophilia complicated things. With his health, it was unlikely that Alexei would live long enough to rule so when Nicholas II abdicated the throne in 1917, it was his youngest brother Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich who was named as the successor. However, the military leader was never sworn in; a year after the Russian Revolution he was imprisoned and murdered.
Fiction: The Dowager Empress in Paris
The Dowager Empress didn’t live in Paris in the 1920s, but lived out her final days in Denmark. After her son, Nicholas II was murdered she fled Russia in fear, going back to her home country where she was born Princess Dagmar in 1847. The Dowager Empress would eventually return to St. Petersburg 87 years after she fled. In 2006, she was buried in St. Petersburg alongside her husband, Tsar Alexander III, and her son, Nicholas II as she had originally wished.
Fact: Anastasia’s dog
In the movie, Anastasia meets a dog she names Pooka who eventually follows her on her journey to find her lineage. The real life Anastasia also had a canine companion named Jimmy, who reportedly died along with her.
Fiction: The Dowager Empress Marie's Cousin Sophie
In the movie, Sophie is the cousin of the Dowager Empress, who is helping her sort through the women who are claiming to be Anastasia. Now, there was, a “Sophie” in Anastasia’s life, too, but she was not a relative. Instead, Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden was a former lady-in-waiting to Anastasia’s mother.
Franziska Schanzkowska, commonly known as Anna Anderson, was one of many women who claimed to be Anastasia, but she was the one who got the most attention. She’s even the one who inspired the movie Anastasia. After jumping off a bridge in what was believed to be an attempt to take her own life, Franziska was taken to a mental asylum where another patient named Clara Peuthert questioned whether she was the missing Romanov. But, it wasn’t Anastasia who Clara thought Franziska looked like, it was her older sister Tatiana.
Franziska didn’t deny that she was Tatiana so Clara suggested extended family members and former servants of the Romanovs come and meet the woman. When Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden, a former lady-in-waiting to Anastasia’s mother, said that Franziska was too short to be Tatiana, Franziska allegedly remarked that she never said she was Tatiana. Later, when Captain von Schwabe, a personal guard to the Dowager Empress, asked her to reveal which Romanov daughter she was, she crossed out every name except for Anastasia’s.
According to the 2011 book, The Resurrection of the Romanovs: Anastasia, Anna Anderson, and the World’s Greatest Royal Mystery, in explaining how she survived that tragic night, Franziska said that one of the guards realized she “was unconscious, not dead” and carried her out of the basement. She then said the guard saved her and later became her lover before dying in a fight. She never named the man, but it sounds similar to how Dimitri saves Anastasia in the movie, helping her sneak out a secret door.
Of course, thanks to DNA testing it was revealed that Franziska wasn’t the real Anastasia but a Polish factory worker who would earn the nickname “the most recognized Anastasia imposter.” So even though her story seemed similar to the one portrayed in the movie, it’s still a fake.
For anyone who saw this movie 20 years ago and believed it was the true story of Anastasia may be disappointed to learn it is more fiction than fact. But, let’s be honest, it doesn’t take away from how enjoyable this movie still is all these years later.