Anastasia: The Movie vs. The Musical vs. The Real Story


This is part three of a series that I’ve been running for the month of February, where I compare popular books with their musical and movie adaptions, looking at their similarities and differences. Today, I’m looking at the new Broadway musical Anastasia, the animated movie it was based on, and in a departure from what I usually do, the real life story that inspired them.

I remember the first time I came across Anastasia Romanova, the famous grand duchess of Russia. When I was young (read: nine, ten, elevenish), my obsession was princesses and queens. I was never, ever a Disney princess type of girl, nope, I was going to read the gritty stories of real life queens and princesses. There was one particular series of books I enjoyed, which were written in a diary format (My Royal Diary, maybe? I’m not sure of the name) and in this series I eagerly devoured stories of Cleopatra, Queen Victoria (and a Princess Victoria too), Marie Antoinette and, of course, Anastasia. I wasn’t even aware of the movie based on her story though, she was just another fascinating historical figure who died in a similarly horrific way to Marie Antoinette (who I felt significantly more sorry for, I don’t know why).

Despite how much I like the 1997 animated movie Anastasia, it has very little regard for actual history, and while the musical based on the movie does strive to be closer to actual history, it still isn’t completely accurate. There’s also another problem: after the Russian Revolution and the eventual Communist take over, Russian history got all muddled up and so the stories that are out there are often confused and contradictory. It’s hard to sift through all the “facts” to find the truth, and that’s probably one of the reasons that Grand Duchess Anastasia’s mythology has persisted so fervently.

Anyway, I’m not going into the tiny little details which everyone fights about, just three major ways the movie and the musical depart from the real story of Anastasia Romanova.

1.          The Deaths of The Romanovs


This is the most obvious departure from history. In 1918, in a cellar in Yekaterinburg, all of the Romanov family (as well as several other members of their household) were executed. No one escaped, though in the decades that followed several young men were to masquerade as the heir, Prince Aleksei, and plenty of women were to claim to be one of the four duchesses–Tatiana, Olga, Maria or Anastasia. For some reason though, it was the youngest daughter, namely Anastasia, who captured popular imagination.

However, the execution of the Romanovs was covered up for some time, and their bodies dumped in a remote forest. The rumour that Anastasia and/or Aleksei had survived the massacre continued though, and was inflamed in 1920 by the appearance of  a woman, called Anna Anderson (though her real name was not known), who claimed to be Anastasia. After Anna’s death, DNA testing proved her not to be the long-lost Russian princess, but, as Anya says in the movie, “I guess every lonely girl would hope she’s a princess”, and Anna Anderson’s life was nothing if not lonely and harrowing.


In the movie, things go quite differently. While Anastasia’s “grandmamma” is staying with the family, their palace in St Petersburg is attacked by revolutionaries. A young kitchen boy, Dmitri, rescues the princess, the dowager empress, and Anastasia music box, from the revolutionaries by sending them through a secret passage way. After fleeing the palace, Anastasia and her grandmother attempt to leave Petersburg on a train, but Anastasia falls off, hitting her head and losing all memory of her life as one of Russia’s most privileged young women. (she’s also depicted as being a lot younger than the seventeen/eighteen years old she was at the time she actually died).


Anastasia from the 1997 animated movie


Eventually, Anya, as she is now called, reclaims her memories, thanks to Dmitri and the music box he has kept, and is reunited with her grandmother.


The musical styles things more accurately than the movie. (Though, just so you know, I have not seen the musical and my knowledge of it comes entirely from the Wikipedia synopsis and the Original Broadway Cast Recording). At the end of the musical, during the song Still/The Neva Flows (reprise), Anastasia challenges Gleb (a Soviet agent tasked with hunting her down and killing her) by saying “Do it! And I will be with my parents and my brother and sisters in that cellar in Yekaterinburg all over again!”. That line suggests that Anastasia was, along with the rest of her family, shot at in the cellar, though she obviously wasn’t killed. How she escaped is not really explained (however, there’s been a long standing theory that Anastasia was kept safe by the immense amount of jewels she and her sisters had sewn into their clothes, and that she may have been shot, fainted and escaped later on). It also portrays Anastasia as being the same age in 1927 (the year the majority of the story takes place) as she would have been had she lived that long.


Christy Altomare and Derek Klena as Anastasia and Dmitry (from Pinterest)


2.          Rasputin


Anastasia’s “little brother Aleksei” was the only son of the Tsar, and thus meant to inherit the throne upon his father’s death. Unfortunately, he was born a haemophiliac, meaning that the slightest cut or bruise could literally cause him to bleed to death. The tsar and tsarina coddled him and did everything in their power to take care of him, especially on the numerous occasions that he was ill. Eventually, the tsarina hired a “mystic” named Grigori Rasputin, who believed he could heal Aleksei (or at least, led the tsarina to believe that he could) and Rasputin became a favourite of the tsarina, and then of her daughters, particularly Anastasia. However, Rasputin wasn’t that great an influence on the tsar’s family (and consequently, on the Russia they ruled), and the tsar eventually asked him to leave their home, to put some space between them. It wasn’t long after this that Rasputin was assassinated. (On an unrelated note, The Two Towers movie extras include a feature claiming that Rasputin was part of Tolkien’s inspiration for Wormtongue. It’s an interesting thought, but I can’t really find any evidence for it. Still, in many ways, they are similar).


The movie kind of throws the real Rasputin out the window. Rasputin was definitely creepy, a fraud, and generally disturbing, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t sell his soul and put some ancient curse on the Romanov family. I’m absolutely certain he wasn’t waited on by an albino bat either.

Another criticism the movie tends to get is that Rasputin was dead before Anastasia and her family were killed, but this is actually an invalid criticism, since Rasputin actually is dead in the movie, and his spirit/ghost/curse trying to kill Anastasia.

As creepy as Rasputin was in real life, he doesn’t bear any resemblance (other than an eerily similar physical one) to Grigori Rasputin.


The musical wisely left Rasputin entirely out of it, putting in a Soviet general as the antagonist instead.


Anastasia (I like this photo) (from Pinterest)


3.         General historical facts (that I’ve only put in here to show off my knowledge of revolutions)


During World War One (in which the Tsar and his German wife grew increasingly unpopular) the name St Petersburg was changed to Petrograd, since Petersburg was a German name and the Russians didn’t what their capital to be associated with Germany (actually, the same thing happened in Australia, when an Australian town called Petersburg was changed to Peterborough). Several years after the revolution, the Bolsheviks changed the name from Petrograd to Leningrad.

The Empress Dowager (Anastasia’s “grandmamma”) did survive the revolution (but she didn’t live in Paris, I’ve heard it was either in Denmark, or in London, but I don’t know which is true), though she never offered a reward for the safe return of her granddaughter (again, conflicting reports. I’ve read that she accepted her son and his family were murdered and never believed the claims of people like Anna Anderson–she never consented to meet with that particular lady–or that she never believed they had died, thinking that was the Red Army covering up their escape, and thus didn’t believe Anna Anderson could be Anastasia either, since Anastasia was safe somewhere with her family, living incognito).

I’ve already mentioned Anastasia’s age, but I’ll bring it up again. She was born in 1901, and when she died in 1918, she would have been seventeen.


St Petersburg is referred to as Petersburg in the movie. There’s no mention of either name change.

In this movie, the Empress Dowager Maria is offering a large reward to anyone who can “bring the princess back”, so of course, two con men decide to find an actress willing to impersonate Anastasia…and they run into Anya, who just happens to actually be Anastasia.

She’s apparently eight in the movie, eight years younger than she was when the revolutions took place in 1917.



Christy Altomare as Anastasia (from Pinterest)


During the opening song, A Rumour in St Petersburg, Gleb, a Soviet general, proclaims: “The Tsar’s St Petersburg is now the people’s Leningrad!” (And this is actually proclaimed three years after the name was changed from Petrograd to Leningrad).

Like the movie, the Dowager offers a large reward and Anastasia is brought to her by Vlad and Dmitry, two compassionate and not-at-all-deceitful con men.

I’m not entirely sure how old Anastasia is supposed to be in the musical, but it seems she’s older than she is in the movie, maybe around the same age as she was historically. She’s definitely a woman, somewhat older than twenty-five, I think, by the time the majority of the story takes place. There’s no mention (in the soundtrack) of her being in an orphanage (only a hospital or something similar), and she already has a job as a street sweeper (whereas, at the opening of the movie, she is being sent to find a job).


So…what’s my conclusion?

Well, I have to say, I can’t really choose a favourite. Unlike The Phantom of the Opera, Anastasia’s life actually happened. It’s not about different versions of a story, it’s actual history…and being the complete and utter history geek that I am, I really don’t like it when history is played with (I’ve only read one alternate history novel that I really enjoyed, and forgive the faults of).

Despite that, I really enjoyed Anastasia (I would have loved it when I was really little, even though I wasn’t a princess-y type of person. It’s kind of sad that I hadn’t seen it until two months ago!). And the musical version of Anastasia is my third favourite musical …

There is something magical about Anastasia surviving the Bolshevik attempts to kill her and creating a new life for herself, but there’s also something horribly sad about it. Can you imagine watching your family murdered in front of your eyes? And having to live with that knowledge, that image, for the rest of your life?

I enjoy the Anastasia musical because it’s beautiful, the lyrics and music are amazing, and the plot is tight and complex (more so than the movie it was based on), but sometimes I wish it had been removed from the real story of Anastasia, so that it was entirely fictional.

I like the real story because it is history, no matter how much we may dislike it, and wish it was different.

Anyway, I can’t choose, so I leave it up to you!


Most of my information came from The Russian Revolution: A Hundred Years Later by Jessica Piper and The Russian Revolution: A New History by Sean McMeekin. If you’re interested, you can just do a Google search for “Anastasia Romanov” or “Romanova” (you’ll get results for both of those) and you’ll find plenty of results, ranging from factual, to okay, to basically-got-everything-wrong to downright weird and disturbing. If you’re really interested, search “Anna Anderson” and see what comes up. Have fun!


Did Anastasia lead you to the real story of Anastasia Romanova? or was it the other way around? What are your opinions on alternate histories?

20 thoughts on “Anastasia: The Movie vs. The Musical vs. The Real Story

  1. I think you did a really good job at tearing the three versions apart for this compare/contrast! For me, it was the history that caught my eye first, then the movie, and finally, the musical. I came across the history of the Romanovs as I was going down one of my daily wormholes through Wikipedia and was instantly fascinated. Shortly afterward, I watched the movie, not really expecting any sort of accuracy and was thoroughly entertained! As you know, my encounter with the musical happened relatively recently and I really enjoyed that as well!
    As a person who loves and cares about history, I do appreciate historical accuracy but sometimes I feel that it makes for a good story to bend and shift it a little. I think that’s the case in Anastasia and, while it would be interesting to see an adaptation that held true to history, I don’t know if I would enjoy it as much. You know, just because I could open one of my history books and find that story there. But, as a fan of Elisabeth, I know that historical accuracy can be achieved while still throwing in interesting twists so it is cool to see that happen every once in a while!
    Whew! This comment got long–sorry about that! Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. No albino bat?? …my childhood was a lie??? ;P

    I always found the movie’s Rasputin really creepy, but apart from that, I enjoyed it. I agree it’s not much like the real story, though… maybe if, as you said, they’d made it a new story? The musical sounds interesting – I’ll have to at least look for the recordings, I think!

    (And I remember reading the My Royal Diary series too! Although I think Mum held a few of them back [e.g. Cleopatera] because we were small and they were a bit disturbing…)
    Jem Jones

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I didn’t know there was a musical and now I’m dead excited to check it out! 😍😍😍 I love the movie with my whole soul, one of my fave films. Is Dmitry as cute as he is in the film? 😉

    The historical inaccuracy that bugs me the most is the fact that the Romanovs totally, utterly sucked and bled their country dry, and the revolutionaries really were the good guys. They deserved to be overthrown, NOT that murdering the family was acceptable. So I do get annoyed in the film where they act like everything’s happy clappy until Rasputin made the people turn against them…. Nope, poverty, oppression and monarchic corruption turned the people against them!

    The other historical fact it’s a shame got missed out is how hard Rasputin was to kill. They went for poison, drowning, ice picks… No wonder he’s become a bit of a cult figure 😊

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  4. I grew up with the movie and it was always one of my favorites. Then when I was about 9 or 10 I came across the Royal Diaries books at the library and picked up the Anastasia one because it was Anastasia! The whole book I was just wondering when she was going to lose her memory and meet Dimitri and Vlad and then I got to the end and EVERYONE DIED. I was… somewhat traumatized. Because NO ONE TOLD ME that was how the real story ended.

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  5. I read the Royal Diaries too! Anastasia’s was my favorite 🙂

    I’ve always been very interested in the Romanov family, because my family’s history (on my mom’s side) is linked up with them. I’m not royalty, unfortunately 😄 but my great-grandfather was a bodyguard or something of the sort for Tsar Nicolas II. so I’ve always felt more sympathy for the Romanovs than for Marie Antionette 😄

    I’ve never seen the movie, and I’ve never seen or listened to the musical, but I had heard that they weren’t very accurate, so thank you for this review 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I really liked it when I was going through that phase! If you can find it, you definitely should watch the movie, you’ll probably enjoy it. It’s very Disney in style, both in it’s storytelling and animation, and despite its inaccuracies, it’s very fun! My brother got it for me for Christmas because I was so in love with the Broadway musical! Thanks for commenting!

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  7. I know right??? No albino bats, this is an outrage!! (I’m sorry that I had to be the one to break this to you)
    I definitely would have been really creeped out by Rasputin if I’d watched it when I was little, I’m even a little squeamish when I watch him falling apart now! Yeah, I really enjoy the storytelling and the plot, but the inaccuracy does annoy me! Definitely! It’s beautiful, especially the music and the lyrics (and the costumes and actors are amazing, from what I’ve seen on Pinterest). I really hope it comes on tour to Australia one day, I’d love to see it!
    I think Cleopatra was slightly disturbing, after all, she committed suicide by provoking a snake to bite her, that’s definitely disturbing. There was also another one, about one of Egypt’s other female Pharaohs (I feel like her name is Jehosophat, but he’s a king in the Bible I think), and that one wasn’t that great either.
    Thanks for commenting!


  8. I didn’t see the movie till Christmas time, but I’m sure it would have been one of my favourites too (one of my favourite movies when I was little was The Swan Princess). Oh, I’m so sorry for you! I read the book long before I really knew who Anastasia was, so I wasn’t quite as scarred by it. And this is what I mean, historical inaccuracy caused you childhood trauma! Thanks for commenting 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Definitely go and check it out! It’s really beautiful and it’s one of my favourite musicals! And yes, he is. 😀 He’s played by Derek Klena and he actually looks almost exactly the same! (they did a really good job of picking an actor who looked like the cartoon version!)

    My personal opinion, after quite a bit of reading on the Romanovs, and the Russian Revolutions, is that Nicholas and his family weren’t necessarily “Bad guys”, if they were an average family, they would have been fine and lovely. I think the problem stemmed from the fact that they were utterly useless at ruling a country, Nicholas continually made stupid little mistakes, particularly during the Russo-Japanese war, and he did do bad things (like the wiping out of Jews, pogroms and stuff like that). I don’t think the revolutionaries were that great either though. in my opinion, both sides had major faults.

    I know! He was like, ridiculously hard to kill. I think he ended up drowning, after they’d tried poisoning him and stabbing him and maybe shooting him too? But yeah, if there was one historical figure who was likely to become an undead zombie, it was probably him.

    Thanks for commenting!


  10. I think I liked all of them, I don’t remember liking one above another, but Marie Antoinette definitely always fascinated me!

    Ooh, that’s a cool story! I wish I could say that my great-grandfather was the bodyguard to the tsar! Is your name purposely the same name as Anastasia’s big sister (I didn’t actually know your full name until I saw it on Victoria Howell’s blog, and that was immediately what I thought of!)

    I guess I always felt sorrier for Marie Antoinette because the poor girl got married at fifteen to some king she’d never ever met, and then led a miserable existence, and then had her head chopped off because she was married to a king she didn’t even want to marry in the first place. Whereas, Anastasia, despite her nasty end, did have a very good life, and her family deeply cared about each other. And there were no fifteen-year-old arranged marriages.

    No worries! Thanks for commenting!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. my mom always said that she just liked the name (which is the same as the older princess, I just go by Tania online 🙂 ), but I like to think that she named me after her haha 😀

    yeah, that totally makes sense. I tend to like to forget about things like that, since they’re kind of painful to think about 😛

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  12. I think I read the novel on Anastasia, but she didn’t really capture my attention until I was on YouTube one day, listening to Newsies, or Les Mis, and the Anastasia songs kept popping up as suggested listening. I wasn’t expecting to like it, but I looked up the synopsis on Wikipedia and was intrigued by the history side of it, so I started research the Romanovs (though I didn’t actually remember the book until I found the book again and bought it for my sister) and ended up listening to the musical, so I suppose the history and the musical was somewhat linked!

    I’m definitely not against /bending/ history once in a while. there was one steampunk “retelling” of World war 1 that I read and really, really liked, and it worked on a similar premise to Anastasia, in that it imagined Franz Ferdinand and Sophie had a son who escaped their assassination, and of course everyone was trying to kill him because he was the heir to the Austrian throne, and I really liked it, but in that case, it weaved real history very well into the story and clearly divided between what was real and what was imagined.

    No worries, my reply is probably longer! Thanks for commenting!


  13. That bat was the only redeeming feature of the entire Rasputing plot! *dramatic sobbing*

    (allllso Cleopatera married two of her brothers. And their parents were half-siblings. [assuming I got the facts right.] So there’s that too… ;P)

    Liked by 1 person

  14. There is, in fact, another movie called Bartok the magnificent which features Bartok as the main character and he’s every bit as saarcastic as he is in Anastasia.
    Yes she did marry her brothers, and then murdered them. And for some reason she’s now an icon. I don’t know.


  15. I read the Royal Diaries too, when I was younger. Anastasia’s one was definitely one of the sadder ones (although several of those princesses ended up dying brutal deaths, anyways). Great article 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I have always been interested in the story of Anastasia since I was a child and watched both the 1997 and 1956 film versions. This led me to read tons of books about the Romanovs and their history as well as the claimant known as Anna Anderson. I believed for the longest time she was truly Anastasia based on my view of the evidence, in spite of the DNA tests that said differently. I figured the tissue and hair could have somehow belonged to someone else and that she couldn’t possibly be Franziska Schanzkowska. After all, the bodies of Anastasia and Alexei couldn’t be located no matter how hard people searched. Then there was the discovery of two bodies said to be the missing Romanov children in 2007, and then DNA the following year that it was them. This once and for all shattered any possibility that Anna Anderson had been Anastasia or that there were any survivors of the Ekaterinburg massacre. Then the book by Greg King and Penny Wilson was published in either 2010 or 2011 titled “the resurrection of the Romanovs” which quite convincingly demonstrated Anna Anderson was indeed Franziska Schanzkowska. Even now I find her and her life so interesting even though she wasn’t Anastasia.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thanks for your comment! I first read about the Romanovs when I was very young, but I wasn’t exposed to the movies or the controversies until much more recently. I found Anna Anderson to be a hugely fascinating person and I really enjoyed reading about her. I also feel very sorry for her–after all, even though she wasn’t Anastasia she still seems to have had a traumatic life.
    Thanks again for your comment! I enjoyed reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

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