There have been more than 15 feature films titled Anna Karenina, and that doesn’t include the television versions. Then what’s so special about this story that we now have another version in theaters? Maybe it’s because moviegoers never get tired of historical dramas where rulers of countries are unfaithful or must endure such an act by a spouse.
Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy – also author of War and Peace and Virgina Woolf – penned his classic novel Anna Karenina and released it in snippets from 1837 to 1877. Director Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) grew an attachment to the story when he read the book and brought on Tom Stoppard to adapt the novel for the screen.
The story itself hasn’t changed much. Anna (Keira Knightley) is married to Alexei Karenin (Jude Law), a Russian government official. But when she catches the eye of Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) the two are locked in a bedeviling need for each other.
Anna and the Count begin an affair which breaks the heart of Princess Kitty (Alicia Vikander). Although she receives a marriage proposal from former beau Levin (Domnhall Gleeson), she says no and also breaks his heart. She is no sooner swooning on the dance floor with Vronsky when he notices the beguiling Anna and bluntly leaves a devastated Kitty alone on the dance floor.
When Anna becomes pregnant she can no longer keep her affair a secret, for she knows Alexei is not the baby’s father. Alexei is angry, humiliated and determined to keep Anna -- and believes he has a chance. Gossip among the country runs rampant, painting Anna as wicked, especially when she leaves the baby with Alexei to travel around the country with Vronsky.
What’s really different about this film involves the way it’s told -- like a play within a play where the characters can seem to be someone or somewhere else. At times when a scene is at the forefront, characters around the leads seem to be floating and dancing, and at some point those in the background actually freeze. I found this very exciting and different.
Anna Karenina, an epic production, was filmed over the course of 12 weeks on 100 different sets, across 240 scenes, with 83 speaking parts. In addition to the beautiful costumes and extravagant sets, the way Wright unfolds Stoppard’s themes of love come across so enchanting one could almost feel they were sitting in front of a stage watching it all happen.
Knightley (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) is superb as Anna, who exudes beauty and sensuality that explains why her husband doesn’t want to let her go and her lover refuses to step aside. Her chemistry with Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass) appears spontaneous and undeniable. Law does an excellent job as the stern Alexei, who can forgive up to a point – after all, he is a Russian during a very proper and regimented time.
Anna Karenina will appeal to fans of Wright’s films -- and story aside -- the entire production is terrific.
Photo Credit: Laurie Sparham / Focus Features