There have been countless screen adaptations of Leo Tolstoy’s classic tragedy, Anna Karenina. The 2012 version by Joe Wright, which stars Keira Knightley as the titular character, reunites the director and actor for the third time since Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007). It seems like these two really like making book-to-movie adaptations, which is great because they’re excellent at it!
Anna Karenina transports the familiar story to a scintillating, theatrical setting, emphasizing the performativity and rigid boundaries of the Russian upper classes in the 1800s as examined by Tolstoy in his novel. Carefully choreographed actors and moving set pieces dance breathtakingly around the camera for the duration of the film and excellent actors such as Jude Law, Matthew Macfadyen, and Domhnall Gleeson bring the secondary characters to life. Law, especially, gives a nuanced performance as the cuckolded Karenin, even with a purposefully atrocious haircut (part of his short-lived stint in playing really unattractive men). The extravagance of the Russian aristocracy is displayed throughout via opulent interior sets, rich costuming (so many furs and diamonds!), and many scenes set in ballrooms and theatres.
Knightley is perfect in the role of Anna but viewers may be let down by the complete lack of chemistry between her and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who plays the dashing Count Vronsky as a curly-haired fop. Assuredly, the spectacular, Luhrman-esque visuals and strong supporting cast more than make up for it. Plus, Tolstoy’s timeless examination of different kinds of love—from pure to carnal, from romantic to familial, from enduring to quick-burning, and, from practical to destructive—is always worth a few viewing hours.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 train accidents
Bonus: This is unrelated, but actors Domnhall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander, aka Levin and Kitty, are both starring in the slick new sci-fi Ex Machina, alongside Oscar Isaac. It sure looks entertaining!