Among a certain crowd, it’s always a safe bet to adapt a work of classic literature. Fairly recently, it worked for ‘Jane Eyre.’ That brings us to Leo Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina.’
Anna (Keira Knightley) is a wealthy socialite in late 19th century Russia. She visits her sister-in-law, Daria (Kelly Macdonald) in Moscow to convince her to stay with her philandering husband, Stiva (Matthew Macfadyen), Anna’s brother.
The situation changes drastically when Anna suddenly falls for a young soldier by the name of Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Despite her husband, Alexei Karenin (Jude Law) and young son, Anna pursues this romance. She has been unhappy for a long time because Alexei is significantly older and emotionally cold.
While all of this is happening, Stiva receives a visit from an old friend, Konstantin Dimitrivich Levin (Domnhall Gleeson), a wealthy landowner from the country. Levin loves Stiva’s sister-in-law ‘Kitty’ Shcherbatsky (Alicia Vikander) and is urged to propose. This proposal is refused because Kitty wants to be a highly regarded socialite in the city, something Levin is unable to provide.
As one illicit relationship blossoms, another love sits unrequited. Will all of these people find what they are looking for?
There have been an insane number of movie versions of this story. What differentiates this from the others? For one thing, the entire film is presented as though it is on a stage. This flourish is novel, though it is a little distracting, well done as it is. The costumes, sets and everything, from a technical standpoint, are magnificent but the gimmick makes the whole thing seem a little extra artificial and soulless. Fortunately, that angle seems to be significantly de-emphasized as the film progresses.
Both main stories are given the proper attention, but that of the titular character is the more interesting one. Perhaps these are meant to parallel and contrast each other: a woman trapped in a loveless marriage versus a man who is on the outside looking in.
Knightley seems to have a great rapport with director Joe Wright. Some of her best work over the last few years (‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Atonement’) has been a result of their collaborations. Law is also given a meaty role because by some perspectives, Alexei is a cruel villain standing in the way of love. At the same time, he is also an upstanding man who has done nothing wrong and has the law/society on his side. Vronsky is a little one-dimensional, but that is the character.
Speaking of Wright, he and writer Tom Stoppard have done a incredible job in trimming a dense novel to neatly fit into two hours (excluding credits). No doubt there are details that are omitted from the source material which will infuriate Tolstoy devotees. They might also mind the odd anachronism here and there. Some of the foreshadowing is also a little heavy-handed.
Special features include: deleted scenes, a look at the epic scope of the story, Adapting Tolstoy, a look at Keira’s transformation, on set with director Joe Wright, the costumes of the film, time lapse photography, and feature commentary. These features are quite substantial.
Many viewers will be turned off by ‘Anna Karenina’ because most of the characters are incredibly selfish and difficult to like. Adaptations of classic literature are also not for everyone.
If you want to check out a highly visual interpretation of a well-known classic, consider giving this a chance.
Add an extra half star to this rating.
Rated R 130 minutes 2013