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The film opens with the following written prologue: "In 1917, the Romanov dynasty-rulers of Imperial Russia-were overthrown by revolution. Some of the nobility and their followers fled to safety but the Tsar, his wife and children were imprisoned and then shot, in 1918. Shortly after, there were strange whispers that one of the family had escaped and was still alive. In the weeks, months, years that followed, the whispers grew louder and louder. And then one woman appeared, a woman who was said to be the youngest daughter of the last Tsar, her Imperial Highness the Grand Duchess Anastasia. Only she, if she is still alive, knows the truth behind the story you are about to see." [Although most modern sources refer to the rulers of Russia as "Czar," the onscreen credits of Anastasia use the spelling "Tsar."]
At the time this picture was made, the identity of the woman known as "Anna Anderson" was in question. After the massacre of the imperial family, rumors arose that one or more of the children had survived. In 1921, a woman in a German mental asylum claimed to be Anastasia. The woman walked to Berlin to seek out her "aunt," Princess Irene, who, after meeting her, denied that she was Anastasia. The woman, who began calling herself Anna Anderson in the 1920s, attracted many supporters and detractors. One of Anastasia's aunts, Grand Duchess Olga, met with Anderson several times and finally declared that she was not Anastasia. Anderson brought suit in a German court in 1938 to prove her identity and claim her inheritance.
The case dragged out until 1970, when the court ruled that she had not proved that she was Anastasia. Anderson, who eventually moved to the United States, died in 1984 and was cremated. Recent DNA analysis of her hair and tissue samples prove that she was not Anastasia, but Franziska Schanzkowska. After the collapse of Communism in Russia, the bones of the imperial family were unearthed and DNA analysis proved that all members of the family had perished.
In September 1953, Warner Bros. bought the rights to a London stage production about Anastasia as a vehicle for Jane Wyman, according to a Daily Variety news item. That picture was never made. Although a January 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that Darryl F. Zanuck was to personally produce Anastasia in Vienna, and a January 1956 Daily Variety article adds that Zanuck bought the rights to Marcelle Maurette's play, only Buddy Adler is credited as producer. Memos from Zanuck reproduced in a modern source indicate that he played a decisive role in getting the film made. Although modern sources state that it was Zanuck who insisted that Ingrid Bergman play the title role, publicity materials in the AMPAS production file on the film note that Adler paid $400,000 for the rights to the play and induced Bergman to return to the American screen after a seven-year absence. Scandal had driven Bergman from the United States in 1949, after she deserted her husband, Peter Lindstrom, and daughter Pia for Italian film director Roberto Rossellini, making her a box-office risk to play the leading role.
A May 1956 article in American Cinematographer states that shooting began on May 21, 1956 in Copenhagen, where background shots were taken of palaces, squares and restaurants. The company then moved to Paris, where locations were filmed in Montmartre, Montparnasse and the Alexander III Bridge. When the church denied permission to film at St. Alexander's Cathedral, one of three Russian Orthodox cathedrals in Paris, director Anatole Litvak ordered the cathedral photographed with a still camera and then reproduced it at the London studio. The film commenced shooting in London on June 11, 1956 at Borehamwood Studios. Studio publicity notes that the film cost $3,500,000 to produce, and at the time, was the most expensive motion picture ever made abroad by Twentieth Century-Fox. Many of the bit parts were played by members of the large Russian exile community that resided in Paris and London.
Although Hollywood Reporter news items place Boris Ranevsky, Vera Gretch, Gabriel Toyne, Linda Gray, Nicholas Bruce, Tamar Gilmore and George Mossman in the cast, their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. The Variety review misspells the names of actors Gregoire Gromoff and Katherine Kath. Bergman won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Anastasia, and returned to the United States for the first time since 1949 to accept the New York Film Critics Award for Best Actress. Alfred Newman was nominated for an Academy Award for Scoring of a Dramatic Picture. Following Anastasia's success, Bergman continued to make American films shot in Europe and the U.S. until her death in 1982.
Among other films based on the life of Anastasia are the 1932 M-G-M film Rasputin and the Empress, starring John, Ethel and Lionel Barrymore and directed by Richard Boleslavsky (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40); the 1956 German CCC Production Is Anna Anderson Anastasia? starring Lilli Palmer; the 1971 Columbia production Nicholas and Alexandra, starring Michael Jayston and Janet Suzman and directed by Franklin Schaffner; Anastasia, The Mystery of Anna, a TV movie directed by Marvin Chomsky and starring Amy Irving, Olivia de Havilland and Omar Sharif; and the 1997 Twentieth Century-Fox animated film Anastasia, directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, with Meg Ryan providing the voice of Anastasia.