First look: Anastasia (1956)

Anastasia (1956) is probably known as the movie in which the legendary Ingrid Bergman won her second Academy Award and the forgiveness of the public after her infamous affair with Roberto Rossellini. Many people have claimed that Begman’s performance here is overrated, and that the reason for her second Oscar win is because of the scandal she was involved in. So having watched this piece of work, is it really the case?

The movie, in my opinion, is a decent one. It’s no masterpiece by any means but there are a lot of positive things to talk about. The acting by the main casts is decent all around, especially by Helen Hayes, who really stood out among them all. The set is lavish, the costumes are beautiful, the story is simple and easy to follow. So yea, I did enjoy it to a certain extent, although I can understand why some find it boring. There isn’t much to the story, other than it being about this mysterious (amnesiac) woman trying to pass off as the Grand Duchess Anastasia after being discovered by this charming general played by Yul Brynner. But honestly, who can deny that this movie is ultimately a vehicle to showcase the talents of this famous swedish actress?

Ingrid Bergman does what she does best here: Being charming, and throwing a whole range of emotions at your face. Ok, that sounded really awkward, but I actually respect her a lot. I wouldn’t say that she’s my favourite classical actress (Vivien Leigh? Bette Davis?) but her presence was immense. She was PHENOMENAL in Autumn Sonata, great in Cactus Flower, and I even enjoyed her rather disliked performance in For Whom The Bell Tolls. I wish I could say the same about that movie though. If there’s one thing that Bergman could play to perfection, it would be fragility, innocence and pureness. I’m serious, you really can’t help but feel sorry for her when you watch her characters on screen.

That being said, she did have this tendency for that kind of melodramatic overacting from the classical era which becomes very annoying at times. Like I said before, I’m never particular about the way actresses act (it’s not like I’m a professional critic or anything), but it does become rather distracting when I see her displaying her usual on-screen histrionics whenever her character is going through some breakdown. I’m sorry, but to me it’s kinda fake. Maybe that’s the reason why I could never really enjoy her performance in Gaslight (“Elizabeth! Eliiiizabeth!!!!!”). I think I have a really weird taste, because everyone loved her there. But whatever. Maybe I’ll rewatch that movie someday and have a revelation, like the one I had with Vivien Leigh’s (haunting, tragic, beautiful, heartbreaking…) Blanche Dubois. All in all, I think that Bergman’s later performances in the 60s and 70s were the ones that really showcased her acting talents and skills.

So…what about Anastasia? Well, I can safely say that Bergman was pretty great. Not phenomenal by any means, but it is the kind of very good Ingrid Bergman performance that is very watchable. Like I said before, her presence is very strong, and you simply can’t take your eyes off her. However, I don’t think that the script does her justice because the character isn’t very well-written, especially in the second half, where all she does is to be charming and lie her way through. I felt like there could have been more depth in this portrayal but I didn’t really see it. But having said that, she does display the initial helplessness, doubts and confusion of the character very well.

I have to mention that her chemistry with Yul Brynner isn’t very strong. Maybe it’s just me, but I found it hard to believe that they were even interested in one another. I just thought that they were annoyed. Yes, there were subtle hints here and there but it wasn’t very convincing. That kind of affected the credibility of the ending.

Ultimately, while this was a good performance by Ingrid Bergman. I don’t know whether she deserved the Oscar or not, and frankly, I don’t care. She’s always a delight to watch on screen.


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