Anna Karenina is the most common and often filmed novel in film history. Produced by Hollywood in 1935, with the marvelous Greta Garbo, and later by the UK in 1948 with a stunning, unforgettable and troubled Vievien Leigh. Then in 1997 Bernard Rose brought back Anna Karenina to the big screen again. A huge production which was entirely and beautifully filmed in Russia, with Sophie Marceau as Anna, the irresistible Sean Bean as Vronsky and James Fox as Alexei Karenin. After 1997 Anna Karenina was only made for TV purposes – in 2000 Anna Karenina was a 4 part British TV adaptation directed by David Blair and in 2005 Anna Karenina was a Russian mini-series by Sergei Solovyov. In 2011 Joe Wright announced his plans to direct a different version of Tolstoy’s novel. And in 2012 a new adaptation of Anna Karenina hit the cinemas with Wright’s muse Keira Knightely as Anna, Jude Law as Alexei and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky.
Russia 1880, Anna (Keira Knightely: Pride and Prejudice, Atonement) is travelling to Moscow by train with an intention to save her brother Stiva’s (Matthew Macfadyen) marriage to a lovely Dolly (Kelly MacDonald). On the train Anna meets Countess Vronskaya (Olivia Williams). Karenina arrives in Moscow and meets a dashing son of the Countess, a cavalry officer Count Vronsky ( Aaron Johnson). Their eyes meet and their dazzling affair begins. Anna, a devoted mother and wife, desperately tries to stop herself from loving Vronsky, however, she looses the fight and lets herself be absorbed by a passionate romance, which will later cause suffering, sadness and finally death.
Vronsky and Karenina’s relationship flourishes. Anna goes against aristocratic rules and Russian etiquette and leaves her husband Alexei (Jude Law: Repo Men, 360) and son Serozha (Oskar McNamara) behind. Months later Anna gives birth to Vronsky’s daughter. The society goes against her, refuses to accept her choices. Anna becomes more emotional, depressed and paranoid that her lover would leave her for someone more suitable. Her lack of sleep and being away from Serozha starts affecting her life and the affair with the young lover. Alexei Karenin, long suffering cuckold husband is shocked by her actions and inappropriate conduct.
While the 1935 Hollywood version and 1948 British edition focused only on the adventurous and tragic love affair, forgetting a story of landowner Levin, Wright’s adaptation happily finds a room for Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) along with everyone else on the literal theatre stage. His love and commitment to Kitty (Alicia Vikander) is heartwarming. Their reconciliation scene via child’s scribble puzzles becomes very touching.
Wright has set Tolstoy’s tragic tale of doomed love almost entirely in a theatre, using backstage as well as the stage. It’s beautifully shoot by Seamus McGarvey. Eye catching design, flawless choreography delivers very well. It turns out to be the film’s greatest strength. I have to admit that the waltz scene was wonderfully arranged with graceful intertwined arm movement and it will stay with me for a long time. Joe Wright’s Karenina captures the eye but no more than that. It was hard to connect with any of the characters. Even harder to understand why Aaron Taylor-Johnson was cast as Vronsky. Tolstoy described Vronsky as “a squarely-built, dark man” whose appearance was “simple and at the same time elegant”. And here we have: Aaron who’s definitely too young and one-dimensional to play the officer. Keira, on the other hand, gives a decent performance. But she lacks the mature beauty and inner radiance described in the novel. Jude Law isn’t too much priggish and boring. His portrayal of Alexei was good but not the great one.
I have to admit that the whole theatrical arrangements and extraordinary costumes, not the acting, glued me to my seat. Even though there’s more negativity towards the film, I kind of like it. However, it would be nice to see Joe Wright directing a film with someone more talented than Keira. I am sure we can all agree with one thing: Tolstoy’s novel definitely made its mark in modern filmography. And we can expect another adaptation sooner or later.
Written by Maggie Gogler