The Romanov family was the last Imperial Family to rule Imperial Russia. They reigned for over three hundred years (1616-1916 in the movie, 300 years, and 1613-1917 in real life, 304 years). Because Imperial Russia was ruled by a dynasty, the members of the family were either called Grand Dukes or Duchess, because they were more 'grand' than any other European royalty. The rulers were Tsar and Tsarina: Emperor and Empress.
The members of the last Imperial Family were Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Nikolaevna, and Tsarevich/Grand Duke Alexei Nikolaevich.
The downfall of the Russian Empire and the Romanovs came to an end when in 1916, Tsar Nicholas II hosts a grand ball at the royal palace celebrating the 300th anniversary of Romanov rule. His mother, the Dowager Empress Marie, comes and gives her favorite granddaughter, 8-year old Anastasia, a music box which plays their lullaby, "Once Upon A December" and a necklace that says 'Together in Paris', which is the key to wind the music box. It is their special secret.
Rasputin interrupts the ball and Nicholas scolds him for returning to the palace. Rasputin claims to be Nicholas' "confidant". Instead, Nicholas brands Rasputin as a traitor and orders him out of the Palace. Enraged, Rasputin curses the family- they will all die within the fortnight- and vows to Nicholas that he will refuse to rest until the Romanov line is destroyed- forever.
Execution of the Romanov Family and EscapeEdit
Rasputin sells his soul in exchange for the powerful, unholy reliquary to destroy the Romanov family, sparking a revolution for revenge. His revolutionists, the Bolsheviks, break open the palace gates, and charged through, causing destruction upon the palace, including toppling the gold statue of Nicholas II.
Anastasia was with her grandmother, Dowager Empress Marie, during the attack and evacuation, calling out for her father, and Nicholas tells his children to hurry. Everyone else was fleeing from the palace for their lives.
Anastasia leaves her grandmother's side when she forgets her music box that she she was given, and Marie follows her. Anastasia runs into her bedroom and grabs her music box, but the two are now trapped in the midst of the chaos.
Then, a 10-year-old servant boy named Dimitri (who had been watching Anastasia and Marie during the ball), crawls through a secret passageway in Anastasia's room and bravely risks his life to save them by sending them through the passage to escape out the servant's quarters. Then Anastasia drops her music box and Bartok, Rasputin's assisstant and sidekick, alerts him to their escape. Anastasia is forced to leave without her music box, Dimitri insisting that they go quickly while they still could. Moments after Dimitri closes the passage door, three of the invading Bolsheviks, Rasputin's revolutionists, burst into the room. One had a rifle and the other two searched the room, demanding to know where Marie and Anastasia are. Dimitri distracts them and is knocked unconscious, collapsing in front of the music box Anastasia left behind. We find out later he saves the music box in hopes of remembering the royal family.
After escaping the palace, Anastasia and Marie are running on frozen ice and under a bridge. Rasputin, who is watching them escape, jumps down and grabs Anastasia's ankle. As he is attempting to kill Anastasia, the ice beneath him cracks and he falls through and drowns, letting Anastasia escape once more.
Finally, when Marie and Anastasia reach the train station, it is chaotic. A sea of people, all panicking, boarding, and ready to leave. Anastasia and her grandmother eventually reach a moving train, but only Marie manages to get on. Anastasia and Marie managed to reach out and grab each other's outstretched hands, but the train speeds up and they are torn apart. Anastasia trips and hits her head on the station platform, knocking her unconscious, forcing Marie to leave her behind. What happens to Anastasia is a mystery until the story begins again, 10 years later.
In the ten years after the palace siege, it is revealed that the Bolsheviks had killed Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, and four of their five children, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Tsesarevich/Grand Duke Alexei. (It is not said in the movie specifically when, where, or how the family was killed, but it is assumed they died the night of the attack). The only known Romanov to have survived is Tsar Nicholas's mother, Dowager Empress Marie, who now lives in Paris. The Catherine Palace, the home of the Romanov family, has long been abandoned and looted of its treasures, a ghost of the past looming silent and defeated in the city.
Russia is now under communist rule (although again, it is never directly said but is implied, as well as being well-known to be true), and the population sings of how tough life is- but the one bright spot in their days is their gossip: St. Petersburg is abuzz with the rumor that Anastasia may still be alive. The Dowager Empress Marie has offered a substantial reward to whomever can find her missing granddaughter and bring her back to Paris. Dimitri, now 20, along with his business partner, the former nobleman Vladimir, have a foolproof plan to get it.
"One look at this jewellery box, and the Empress will think we've brought the real Anastasia," Dimitri tells Vlad, showing him the music box that Anastasia had dropped while fleeing the palace. (It is important to note that no one but Marie and Anastasia know that it's actually a music box.)
Meanwhile, out in the countryside just past St. Petersburg, an 18-year-old woman called Anya leaves the orphanage she has lived in for the past 10 years, since the Revolution. With no memories of her past prior to that night, the only clue to her past is the small, flower-shaped key necklace she has always had, that bears the inscription "Together in Paris". With guidance from a small puppy, Pooka, who she comes across, she decides to forsake her arranged job at the fish factory and heads to St. Petersburg to find out who she is and to find her future.
There, the paths of Anya and Dimitri will cross and the journey to the past and the future begins, and the fate of Anastasia will be revealed.