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Eight Reasons to Catch Anastasia

This Sunday, KCET is showcasing a dreamier marriage between historical fact and fiction than Hollywood can seem to muster nowadays: 1956's Anastasia. Starring Ingrid Berman in the title role (more or less), the film weaves a love story into the sad tale of Tsar Nicholas II's youngest daughter, who was assassinated by Bolsheviks along with her family but maybe -- just maybe, for the sake of a good story and forensics be damned -- could have survived. If that tempting possibility isn't enough to get you to tune in, here are eight more reasons why you should.


It's not the the animated one. Though far from the best reason to watch Anastasia, I feel like it's in everyone's best interest to differentiate this one from the 1997 wannabe Disney cartoon musical, which featured Meg Ryan as the lead and Hank Azaria as a talking bat named Bartok. KCET will not be screening that movie, nor will it in the future be screening, say, a Pixar-animated take on the story of the Lindbergh baby.

Ingrid Bergman. She took home the 1956 Oscar for Best Actress, and she truly deserved it. As the character is written in this film, Anastasia demanded that Bergman pull off fragile, alluring, regal and even madcap -- sometimes rapidly switching from one to another, and sometimes two or three simultaneously. Bergman, however, succeeds, and this woman she plays -- whoever she is -- somehow emerges from the screen as a fully formed person. It's remarkable to watch, really.

Mrs. Rossellini. Yeah, I'm still talking about Ingrid. Isn't it strange to be watching her so many years later, when her daughter, Isabella Rossellini, is an established actress in her own right? Try to count how many times Bergman's striking resemblance to her daughter catches your eye. It's especially notable when you consider the severity of the scandal caused by Bergman's extramarital relationship with Roberto Rossellini, whom she later married. Anastasia marks her Hollywood comeback following that ordeal.

It's based on a true story, sort of. Nearly everyone who knows of Anastasia also knows about the speculation that she somehow escaped Bolshevik prison. Less remembered today, however, is Anna Anderson, who nearly ten years after the royal family's execution emerged from a mental institution claiming to be the Anastasia. And while repeated investigations proved that this woman was actually Polish commoner Franziska Schanzkowska, many who knew the actual Anastasia swore that Anderson and Anastasia were one and the same. The object of worldwide curiosity, Anderson traveled from one nation to the next, ultimately marrying an American genealogist. She died in Charlottesville in 1984, and in 2009 DNA test proved her claim false. The movie version pushes the story in a considerably different direction.

A quick reminder to do your homework. Allegedly, it was only during the production of the film that the producers realized that Anderson was still alive. They therefore had to make a last-minute flight to Germany to get her to sign off the rights to her story.

Yul Brynner. Also a standout, Brynner plays Dr. Bounine, a Russian expat who tries to help prove that Anna is Anastasia. He begins to fall for her, however, and realizes that proving she is, in fact, royalty would likely mean that they could never marry. It's quite the dilemma. Also worth mentioning? Brynner is damn sexy -- not in spite of but because of his shaved head.

It's got an EGOTer. The venerable Helen Hayes stars as Dowager Empress Maria Federovna, and she performs with as much flair as you'd expect from the first woman to win an Emmy, a Grammy and Oscar and a Tony. EGOT!

It's an amnesia movie. Did you know that movies, TV and books feature retrograde amnesia as a plot device a lot more often than the memory-blanking affliction ever happens in real life? It's true, and that's probably because it's such a handy way to build suspense and reveal surprises. That said, it does make for a good story. Someone, somewhere needs to make a supercut of ever major instance of a character, face wracked by intense emotion, crying out "I don't know who I am!" (See: Overboard, The English Patient and Mulholland Drive and many, many others.)

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