The Film: The story of the possible survival of the Grand Duchess Anastasia intrigued the world for decades. The tale of the Russian imperial family being arrested and ultimately executed by the Bolsheviks had evoked both sadness and the hope that someone could have survived such an ordeal. What prompted speculation that the youngest daughter, Anastasia, may have survived was due to the family’s grave site being unknown. What especially escalated this speculation was the discovery of the woman named Anna Anderson in the 1920s who claimed she was, in fact, the Grand Duchess herself. Anderson was convincing enough in both appearance and personality that even Tolstoy believed her to be the Grand Duchess. The claims Anderson made were controversial with both believers and skeptics up until her death in 1984, but eventually in 1991 DNA testing proved Anderson’s claims were false and Anastasia’s body was finally discovered in 2007. Yet Anderson’s claims weren’t proven false when the 1956 film starring Ingrid Bergman first was introduced to film audiences. The film uses Anderson as a basis for the film’s storyline, but embellishes upon the concept that Anderson may actually have been the real Anastasia.
Anastasia is not a historically accurate film, but it never poses itself as one. Anderson’s story is used as a basis, but the accuracy of her story is given a tinge of truth to it in order for the plotline to propel forward. The largely fictional film follows a group of swindlers, led by General Sergei Pavlovich Bounine (Yul Brynner), who seek to find a woman who resembles a likeness to the Grand Duchess Anastasia and pose her as the real one to the relatives of the former imperial family. Their end goal is to gain access to the millions of dollars that would be bestowed to Anastasia, if she were in fact deemed to be alive. The woman they find and decide to use is Anna Koreff (Ingrid Bergman), a homeless woman who is on the verge of suicide. After giving her the adequate “education” and training, they present her to those who once knew Anastasia, only for Anna to unveil moments of truth to them that nobody but the actual Grand Duchess would have known. This leads to the speculation that Anna may actually be who she claims to be and is only now getting past her amnesia and realizing the veracity of her statements.
When analyzing the film in its entirety, it is evident this was a film meant to showcase the acting talent of Ingrid Bergman. The film is crafted as a rags-to-riches tale with the primary difference being that this is the story of Anastasia’s resurgence with the world. Yet the fundamental flaw with this film is that while Bergman is extraordinary in her performance, it is evident with the filmmakers and director that the supporting elements of the film were given less attention and opportunity to compliment the film. Many of the characters are reduced to cultural stereotypes and don’t truly offer anything to the finalized film other than being a stock character who believes Anastasia’s claims are true. Yul Brynner is especially disappointing in the film with his monotone style of acting. The narrative of the film attempts to craft his growing interest with Anastasia, but Brynner’s acting fails to capture any true chemistry between his character and the title character.
The best interactions within the film come exclusively from Helen Hayes whose role as the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, Anastasia’s grandmother, is the obvious standout of the film. Hayes’ stage and film experience gave her the ability to dominate every scene she took part in, typically stealing the spotlight from any of the actors she’s with, including Bergman. Hayes offers the perfect blend of maternal love with skepticism within her performance, to which her role is exquisite alongside Bergman. It is their scenes together that truly sell Bergman’s performance, giving her the opportunity to convey both the fear of being rejected by her grandmother, but also having the inner strength and courage to finally admit to who she is. It is for these scenes alone, the scenes between these two acting legends, that Anastasia is worth viewing.
The Performance: The parallel between Anastasia and Bergman’s own life is astounding when considering the subject of reemergence between the two stories. In 1949, Bergman began an affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini; an affair that got her pregnant. This created an uproar in the United States, with many feeling that Bergman was representing poor virtues and the abandonment of family. Bergman eventually left her then-husband and daughter, moved to Italy and married Rossellini. Her divorce and custody battle was highly publicized and tarnished her reputation as both an actress and individual. The resulting sentiment caused American film agencies to avoid her. Even though she wasn’t officially blacklisted from American film, Bergman’s departure to Italy was treated as such. Therefore in 1956 when she starred in Anastasia, this was her first foray back into American film. Even by the loosest of definitions, this is considered a comeback for Ingrid Bergman, especially with her winning her second Oscar for this role.
Bergman may have had the sentiment on her side to win her second Oscar, but it truly was the impact of her performance that resulted in her win. Her performance as Anna Koreff is a fantastic combination of vulnerability and empowerment that kept the lore of Anastasia’s possible survival alive at that time. Bergman’s true achievement with the performance was constructing a framework of her Anna as fragile and scared, but whose foundation is royalty. By providing her character as having an unintentional subconscious she isn’t even aware of, it allowed for her emotions to externally present themselves without warning. This further gave Bergman the opportunity to craft the role as a self-realizing one, to which her character’s confidence builds the more she remembers her past.
As the film progresses, Bergman is careful with juggling the tone of her diction by portraying a clear distinction between authority and meek young girl. She also gave her performance more confidence which further enhanced the possibility that Anastasia could actually be her. The true difficulty of the role was to convince the film viewers that her character could be the individual she claims to be. For that, Bergman couldn’t merely assume film viewers would believe her performance. Instead she was sure to provide subtleties of her past into her performance that coalesced seamlessly into her transition and representation of being royalty. Most importantly, Bergman was careful to have her character have the conviction that she is Anastasia, but gave her performance moments of ambiguity to cast doubt to her claims. Bergman does this effectively by having her character convey moments of hesitancy and self-doubt in the presence of authority figures who once knew Anastasia. This is brilliance on the part of Bergman, who gave her Anna Koreeff believability and skepticism all in the same performance.
Autumn Sonata: 5/5
Murder on the Orient Express: 5/5
Cactus Flower: 5/5
A Woman Called Golda: 4.5/5
For Whom the Bell Tolls: 3.5/5
Joan of Arc: 3/5
The Bells of St. Mary’s: 3/5
Autumn Sonata: 5/5
Murder on the Orient Express: 5/5
Cactus Flower: 5/5
A Woman Called Golda: 4/5
For Whom the Bell Tolls: 4/5
The Bells of St. Mary’s: 2.5/5
Joan of Arc: 2/5
Links for other Ingrid Thursdays can be found here:
A Woman Called Golda
Joan of Arc
Murder on the Orient Express
For Whom the Bell Tolls
The Bells of St. Mary’s