WCW: Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia

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Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna (1901-18) was the daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia. She was the youngest of four daughters (although older than her brother, Tsarevech Alexei, heir to the throne). In a fascinating story told repeatedly on screen, her father was sweet but NOT a good ruler, and between his bad instincts; long-standing poverty and inequality across the country; his wife’s (Empress Alexandra) involvement with mystic Rasputin; her brother’s hemophilia; and World War I, Russia ended up in a revolution. The tsar was forced to abdicate, the family was put under house arrest, and famously they were eventually executed.

Anastasia is symbolic of the tragic princess, and as the youngest, the romanticized view we often have of royal children. She was furthermore the most mischievous, and has the strongest personality of the Russian royal children, at least in terms of what’s remembered today. Furthermore, she was the focus of speculation that one or more of the royal family survived the murder, with multiple pretenders claiming to be her, most famously, Anna Anderson — but DNA testing proved that she was indeed killed along with her family.

Anastasia Nikolaevna, 1910, via Wikimedia Commons

Anastasia Nikolaevna, 1910, via Wikimedia Commons

Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, 1914, via Wikimedia Commons

Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, 1914, via Wikimedia Commons

Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, 1916, via Wikimedia Commons

Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, 1916, via Wikimedia Commons

I have a leftover-from-childhood fascination with Anastasia and the Romanovs, and one of these days I want to do a “Frock Flicks Guide to the Fall of the Romanovs” — but the problem is there’s still so many films/TV series I have yet to watch. So I shall tide myself over with this roundup of Anastasia on film, and get cracking on filling in my viewing gaps. I am including portrayals of Anna Anderson, since these have primarily been in the context of presenting her as the real Anastasia.

 

Clothes Make the Woman (1928)

An American silent film about Anna Anderson. Obviously it’s contemporary, but I’m including it because I’m a completionist! Eve Southern (Intolerance) plays Anna.

1928 Clothes Make the Woman

Hard to say much other than the guy is dapper!

Anastasia, the False Czar’s Daughter (1928)

A German silent film about Anna Anderson, with Lee Parry as Anna.

1928 Anastasia, the False Czar's Daughter

Not entirely what I picture the Russian Revolution to look like, but okay? Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

1928 Anastasia, the False Czar's Daughter

It’s fun to be mentally ill!

 

Rasputin and the Empress (1932)

Obviously focused on Rasputin and Empress Alexandra. This was the first sound film in which all of the Barrymores acted together (John as Prince Paul Chegodieff, Ethel as Alexandra, Lionel as Rasputin). Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables) is an uncredited Anastasia, and the costumes are by Adrian!

1932 Rasputin and the Empress

Obviously Anastasia is in green | Photo by LMPC via Getty Images

1932 Rasputin and the Empress

Is that Anastasia on the left? All I’ve got is “super 1930s”!

 

Anastasia: Die letzte Zarentochter (1956)

Another German take on Anna Anderson, with Lilli Palmer (The Amorous Adventures of Moll FlandersPeter the Great) as Anna/Anastasia.

1956 Anastasia – Die letzte Zarentochter

No idea.

1956 Anastasia – Die letzte Zarentochter

Okay this at least looks 1910s-ish! Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

 

Anastasia (1956)

I should love this film, but weirdly it leaves me cold … okay, I may have only watched it once when I was a teenager. But I should have loved it! Ingrid Bergman didn’t emotionally connect with me, and I thought many of the costumes were too 1950s. Maaaaaybe I’ll give it another whirl, if only to save myself from the crap I will get in the comments. Bergman plays Anna Anderson/Anastasia, Yul Brenner is General Bounine, Helen Hayes is Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, and the costumes are by René Hubert.

1956 Anastasia

Alright, this looks 1910s-ish … but shouldn’t it be 1920s?

Ingrid Bergman, Anastasia (1956)

And you can’t go wrong with court dress, although I suspect this may be an amateur colorization.

1956 Anastasia

It’s all about those sleeves!

 

Nicholas and Alexandra (1971)

Focused on the tsar and tsarina, with Oscar-winning costumes by Yvonne Blake. Fiona Fullerton (Shaka Zulu) plays Anastasia.

1971 Nicholas and Alexandra

I feel like not many corsets were worn in this production.

1971 Nicholas and Alexandra

But you can never go wrong with a huge hat in my book!

 

Fall of Eagles (1974)

A sprawling BBC miniseries that focuses on three ruling European families (the Hapsburgs of Austria-Hungary, the Hohenzollerns of Germany, and the Romanovs of Russia), from 1848 to 1918. Sounds like exactly my cup of tea, except I don’t think I can take the videography. Pippa Vickers plays what appears to be a very minor role as Anastasia.

1971 Fall of Eagles

Blurry screenshot is blurry; Anastasia must be in that pile o’ girls.

 

Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986)

The first episode shows the later days of Anastasia and the royal family, while subsequent episodes focus on Anna Anderson — this TV miniseries is firmly in the “Anna was Anastasia” camp. Amy Irving (Yentl, The Far Pavilions) plays Anna, Jennifer Dundas (Little Gloria … Happy at Last) plays young Anastasia, and Rex Harrison, Olivia de Havilland, and Omar Sharif round out the cast. You can read all about my pre-teen obsession!

1986 Anastasia- The Mystery of Anna

I big puffy heart this!

Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986)

Embroidered stripes!

Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986)

Sparkle motion!

 

Assassin of the Tsar (1991)

Malcolm McDowell plays a man in an asylum who claims to be Yakov Yurovsky, chief guard and executioner of the Romanovs. Apparently much of the film is a flashback to the Russian Revolution. Olga Borisova plays Anastasia.

1991 Assassin of the Tsar

I do love that whole “ethereal white” 1910s thang.

1991 Assassin of the Tsar

In age order, so that’s Anastasia with the bangs. All in matching dresses!

 

Rasputin (1996)

Aka Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny — I definitely need to see this! Focused on Rasputin and told from Tsarevich Alexei’s perspective, with Alan Rickman as Rasputin, Greta Scacchi as Alexandra, Ian McKellen as Nicholas II, and Hungarian actress Patricia Kovács as Anastasia.

1996 Rasputin

Once again in court dress.

1996 Rasputin

I’m not loving the look of the kokoshnik, but I’ll report back once I’ve watched this.

 

Anastasia (1997)

Y’all will kill me if I don’t include the animated film VERY LOOSELY based on the story of Anna Anderson. Meg Ryan and Kirsten Dunst voice Anna/Anastasia.

1997 Anastasia

Sailor dress — is this supposed to be 1910s?

1997 Anastasia

Vague memory of her being in disguise as a peasant here.

1997 Anastasia

Elegant, although the hair is weird if this is 1920s.

1997 Anastasia

And props for getting the court dress right-ish!

 

The Romanovs: An Imperial Family (2000)

A Russian production: the last year and a half of the Romanovs, with Olga Budina as Anastasia.

2000 The Romanovs- an Imperial Family

The daughters all had to cut their hair off at one point (illness I think?).

2000 The Romanovs- an Imperial Family

This looks decent?

 

Russian Ark (2002)

A weird, arty, visually interesting but story-wise boring AF film showing various episodes in the history of the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. Nicholas II and family show up having tea, and then the daughters (including Anna Antonelli as Anastasia) do some arty dancing through the palace.

Russian Ark (2002)

It’s VERY atmospheric.

2002 Russian Ark

Not loving the dangly bits on Maria? far left. All these dresses look like they came from Macy’s.

2002 Russian Ark

It’s pretty, even if it’s random!

 

The Lost Prince (2003)

A so/so plot-wise, fabulously costumed BBC miniseries about Prince John (1905-19), youngest child of Britain’s King George V and Queen Mary (Miranda Richardson), who had epilepsy and was hidden from public view for most of his short life. In one scene, the British royal family is shown vacationing with the Romanovs, as they did. Algina Lipskis plays Anastasia.

2003 The Lost Prince

Everyone looooves the line-up of white dresses and big hats on the four sisters.

2003 The Lost Prince

It’s funny, in my short review I didn’t rave about the costumes, but everything I see in terms of stills/screenshots is great.

2003 The Lost Prince

Pretty sure that’s Anastasia on the left.

 

Raspoutine (2011)

A French/Russian production about the last year of Rasputin’s life, with my least favorite Gerard Depardieu as the mystic, Fanny Ardant as Alexandra, and Viktoriya Agalakova as Anastasia.

2011 Raspoutine

I can’t get past Depardieu, sorry.

 

Romanovs (2013)

I weirdly want to watch this Russian docudrama about the Romanov dynasty from the first Russian tsar, Michael (1596-1645) through Nicholas II. I can’t find out who played Anastasia, in what must be a very minor role.

2013 Romanovs

Their hair is growing out from the illness-cutting? Right?? I guess that’s Anastasia with modern bangs on the right.

 

Grigoriy R. (2014)

A Russian miniseries focused on Rasputin. Once again, I can’t find a credit for Anastasia, but I see her in stills so I know she’s there!

2014 Grigoriy R.

That could be Anastasia on the left, or it could be Maria (the next oldest).

2014 Grigoriy R.

Based on age, that’s Anastasia on her mom’s lap.

 

The Last Czars (2019)

The trainwreck-y Netflix docudrama about Nicholas II and family (and Alexandra’s nipple). Gabija Pazusyte plays Anastasia, and Indre Patkauskaite randomly plays Anna Anderson.

2019 The Last Czars

Meh. Okay, I do like the squared collars on the girls, but they could have gone MORE sailor-suit-y.

2019 The Last Czars

Not sure which daughters these are.

2019 The Last Czars

Anna Anderson in the asylum.

 

Anastasia: Once Upon a Time (2020)

A digitally-released movie that is pissing off people right and left: “Anastasia Romanova escapes through a portal when her family is threatened by Vladimir Lenin, and she finds herself in the year 1988, befriended by a young American girl.” Tasteful much?

2020 Anastasia- Once Upon A Time

Dear god.

2020 Anastasia- Once Upon A Time

Okay, so it’s “fantasy/historical,” but that dress is hideous.

2020 Anastasia- Once Upon A Time

Halloween?? Because NO ONE dressed like that in 1988!!

 

What’s your favorite portrayal of the real Anastasia on screen?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

32 Responses

  1. Jillian

    The Grand Duchesses had to shave their heads because of measles, apparently. Olga and Alexei were outside playing in the snow with a young cadet in January 1917, who unknowingly had measles. The two siblings contracted it, which then spread to the rest of the sisters. The medicine used for treatment caused their hair to slowly fall out. In spring of 1917, they decided to shave all of their head in order to help it regrow faster, and was down to their shoulders by the time they were murdered.

    Reply
  2. Constance

    I never connected with Ingrid Bergman in anything. I liked Fall of Eagles due to being a history buff…also N&A. Seems like the Silent Era was a bit “too soon” lol to be filming their story…unless it was before the massacre. Never liked any of the fake Anastasia takes,,,

    Reply
  3. mmcquown

    Tovarischi, I do not watch cinema about traitors to the Russian people. Well, no, it’s just that the only one I’ve seen is the Bergman-Brynner one, and Yul was always worth watching.

    Reply
  4. EAG46

    I don’t know if a “Man Crush Monday” is appropriate for Rasputin, but can you do a feature about the films about him? He is much more fascinating, both in myth and fact, than the last Czar.

    Reply
    • Natasha Rubin

      I was thinking this too! His portrayals are really varied too, from the pretty grounded and sympathetic Alan Rickman incarnation to the cartoon which straight-up made him an evil sorcerer.

      Reply
  5. Boxermom

    The only one of these I’ve seen is “Rasputin, Dark Servant of Destiny” because…Alan Rickman. I’d like to watch the Amy Irving one; maybe I can catch it on youtube.

    Reply
  6. M.E. Lawrence

    Random observations:

    That “ethereal white thing”! Looked great c. 1810, and 1910 as well, especially in formal portraits of the grand duchesses.

    As for “Fall of Eagles,” the DVD format isn’t bad, if a bit faded. Slow paced, in the ’70s manner, but well produced (the costumes!), acted, directed, etc. Patrick Stewart is Lenin, and scary good.

    Kokoshniks: Are they the Russian equivalent of French hoods?

    Reply
  7. Roxana.

    By all accounts Anastasia could be a right brat, controllable only by her father. But can one entirely blame her for it? She was growing up in near isolation with constant worry about her sick brother and her sick mother. And Rasputin added a new level of tension since they were supposed to keep his visits secret from the entourage.
    In justice to Rasputin there is NO evidence of any impropriety with the imperial children. Going by their letters to him and their Aunt Olga’s first hand witness the girls and their brother regarded Rasputin as a trusted friend and confidant. The older girls even confided their crushes to him and he gave them very sensible advice, he had two daughters of his own after all.
    Rasputin did a lot of harm but his intentions seem to have been to support the tsar and tsarina.

    Reply
  8. Orian Hutton

    I just think of the fear the family would have felt, particularly at the end. No one deserves what happened to them. Perhaps that is why there was a desire that one should have survived.

    Reply
    • Roxana

      What happened to those children is too tragic to bear. Nicholas and Alexandra didn’t deserve to die but at least they’d actually done something. Their children hadn’t.

      Reply
  9. Allison

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who never warmed up to the Bergman film. The costumes are nice, and Bergman and Helen Hays’ scenes together are well acted. It’s just never been a favorite. I should probably see N&A again, although my initial first impression was…not great. I think part of my reservations about it is just how 1970s the girls’ hair is. Rasputin with Alan Rickman was very good, if memory serves. Not a flick, but you should also check out the costumes from the (sadly recently closed) Broadway production of Anastasia. It’s based on the animated movie with more of a historical twist. The costumes were by Linda Cho, and they are gorgeous, even if the red dress Anastasia wears at the end looks more 1950s than 1920s.

    Reply
  10. Saraquill

    Dang, Anastasia the cartoon isn’t the least accurate of the bunch? I’ll ignore the time travel one, thanks for the heads up.

    Reply
  11. Angel Myers

    You should review the animated movie and the new Rebecca movie. Also, The Spanish Princess season 2.

    Reply
  12. Daniel Milford Cottam

    The Romanovs also pop up very briefly in the American Horror Story Apocalypse serial (Anastasia and/or some of her sisters are supposedly witches who are trying to save themselves and their family but it all goes wrong when a time travelling witch buggers it all up). It’s quite distressing on several levels, especially the tasteful level one.

    Reply
    • Nzie

      Wow, your description sounds like the inspiration for the awful time travel one which apparently came out earlier this year. Yikes.

      Reply
  13. Constance

    Hair and make up are often hideous in N&A…never will understand why hair is not presented accurately on film…audiences would have learned to appreciate realism. But especially in the Golden Age, so called, it was all about making the big stars look their best rather than accuracy, even if the hairstyles of that era were pretty awful as we see it now. Eyeliner and blue eye shadow kill me equally to flowing locks and bouffants…

    Reply
  14. Roxana

    Anastasia and her entire family are now saints of the Russian Orthodox Church making fantasies about her ever so slightly blasphemous.

    Reply
  15. MrsC (Maryanne)

    I have a soft spot for Depardieu that I’ve never quite understood but I think I’ve worked it out – he reminds me very much of fish from Marillion, not to look at so much but also how they move, and I adore Marillion. Wow, deep!

    Reply
  16. Kaite Fink

    And now I have that awful Rasputin song stuck in my head again… Damnit. My vote goes for the 1996 Rasputin. Rickman and Ian McKellen, for the win.

    Reply
  17. gelasticjew

    There is a series on Amazon Prime called The Romanovs, and one episode focuses on the last days of the tsar and family.

    Reply
  18. Nzie

    Some of these sound fascinating. I’m in the zone affected by the power outage so I am on data and can’t load all the pictures.

    Your remarks on the taste factor of this year’s are right on. Of course I doubt most people have seen it, but apparently Russian internet found out about it and was (quite understandably) offended. Americans trying to tell Russian stories often get things wrong, but this one struck a nerve.. someone said it’d be like making a light time travel fantasy of 9/11, and given how seared into the national consciousness the tragedy is, I don’t blame them.

    Reply
  19. Nzie

    Also, I do like Russian Ark, but you have to go in not expecting much plot. Just think of it as like a song or a painting trying to capture something, but not like an essay or a story. I think it’s easier to grasp for Russians, because it’s hardening to elements of their history and culture they know but also have a barrier reaching due to the effects of time, the revolution, etc.

    Reply
  20. Leigh Aldrich

    I’d like to see the story behind why King George V first offered them refuge in England but then turned around and refused. Was it purely his decision, was it political pressure or something else.

    Reply
    • Roxana.

      Given the nature of the English constitution and it’s limits on the monarch the decision was definitely not George’s alone. Nicholas had a terrible reputation as an oppressive ruler among the liberal and enlightened, who weren’t in fact wrong. The government and king came to believe offering the Imperial Family asylum would offend a large swath of english opinion and endanger the monarchy. In fact it’s unlikely to the point of impossible that Nicholas and family would have been allowed to leave under any circumstances.

      Reply
    • Karin

      There were definitely political reasons why the offer was refused in the end. The book “King Kaiser Czar – Three Royal Cousins Who Led the World to War” by Catherine Clay makes that clear.

      Reply
  21. Jose

    I was expecting someone to point that the dapper guy from 1928 is Walter Pidgeon in Much Pre-Greer Garson time hehe
    The 1956 Lilli Palmer is more commendable for acting and even storyline but i don’t think it’s very costume wise it is supposed to pass through the early 1920’s (when Anna tries to commit suicide) to the 1930’s (i guess) and a prologue in 1956, i like it i watched it with subtitles after a extensive search but it’s far from being very glamourous interestin Ivan Desny was in both 1956 movies kkk
    Also isn’t the actress playing Empress Alexandra in Lost Prince and Grigory R the same??

    Reply

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