14 MARCH 1998, Page 56

Country life

Robin, tacos and princesses

Leanda de Lisle

Ican't bear Robin Williams. It's not the cloying sentimentality or his hairiness, it's the two combined. However, I still took the boys to see his latest film, Flubber, over their half-term. Well, there was nothing else on and I thought, 'At least there are the trailers to look forward to.' So — what will we be able to go and see over Easter? A new Disney film called Anastasia, appar- ently. It's about a Russian princess who loses her family and lives in fear of a wicked magician called Rasputin. Very cute. What, I wonder, will Disney come up with for their summer blockbuster? Anne Frank, the story of a Jewish princess who loses her family and lives in fear of a wicked storm-trooper called Merlin? I wish someone would do a Prince Yussupov and sue the studio. It wouldn't teach Disney's executives anything about taste, but it might remind them that the past has a long reach.

Believe it or not, Anastasia's aunt, the Grand Duchess Xenia, was my godmother. She was the Tsar's sister and — best of all — Yussupov's mother-in-law. It makes me sound as if I'm old enough to have shared a few poisoned cakes with Rasputin myself. But Xenia was very old when I was born. I have a photograph of her taken about then. She looks very frail and has a nun standing behind her — probably Prince Philip's mother.

Anyway, I remember reading that Xenia was asked about one of the phoney Anas- tasias. I think her reply was quite neutral, but if they had claimed to be Princess Anastasia, she would have assumed they purported to be some cousin. The daugh- ters of the Tsar were grand duchesses like herself. You can imagine the conversation. Journalist: 'This is the Princess Anastasia.' The Grand Duchess Xenia: 'Who? Speak up, dear.' Journalist: 'The Princess Anasta- sia. Is this the Princess Anastasia?' Xenia: 'Is it? Oh, I don't know. Maybe. Haven't seen her for years.' (To herself: 'If ever'). Anas- tasia: 'I remember the toilet at the Vinter Palace vas the first on the leyft after the sving dorz.' Xenia: 'How clever of you. I can't even remember where the bathrooms are in this house.' Anastasia to journalist: `Vat did I tyell you? I am Princesski, daughter of Tsar. Now lyets go and make a packet.' In such ways myths are born that even DNA testing can't destroy.

Happily the cinema also showed a trailer for a film about a difficult mouse. I like dif- ficult mice, even if I have to admit I screamed that time a mouse ran between my legs when I was sitting on the loo. Going to the cinema is one of our greatest pleasures. I was talking to some ex-London girls over dinner in an Indian restaurant in Leicester the other day and we agreed that, while we missed going out to French and Italian restaurants in the evening, we could at least console ourselves with the thought that going to the cinema here is infinitely easier and more comfortable than it is in London.

My friend Detta's description of taking my eldest son to the cinema in Leicester Square chilled the blood. There was such a huge crowd in the Underground, she was frightened of losing him. She told me she had had visions of having to tell me my son had been snatched by one of the pae7 dophiles who hang around there looking for rent boys. She was going to force him to hold her hand when she realised my son's kidnappers wouldn't be able to run very far. Everyone in the crowd was stuck fast together. By contrast, the only horror to be faced at Warner Bros., Fosse Park, are fast-food outlets selling tacos dipped in cheddar-style cheese. Well, and the occa- sional hour spent locked in a darkened room with Robin Williams.