Anna Karenina is surely one of the most revered books of all time (in fact Dostoevsky called it “a flawless work of art”) and the 2012 production starring Keira Knightley is the thirteenth film adaptation of the classic novel by Tolstoy. It’s a blockbuster of a book but in short is a tragedy wherein the titular Anna, a prominent member of the Russian aristocracy, has an affair with Count Vronsky which scandalises society and rocks the foundations of her marriage. Anna is brought to her knees by the affair and its consequences destroy her.
Anna Karenina is the third time that Keira Knightley and director Joe Wright have worked together (the others being Pride and Prejudice and Atonement) and they are a winning combination. Knightley is perfect in the role; by turns beguiling, haughty, then disarming. Vronsky is played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Jude Law plays Anna’s husband, Alexei Karenin. I particularly loved Law’s performance in the film. Sometimes I find him a little sleazy, a bit smug even, but he pulls off Karenin’s morally upstanding and honourable character with aplomb.
The film is very stylised, at times like a theatre production, with some impressionistic, highly choreographed scenes. Dario Marianelli’s orchestral score is sympathetic without being trite.* The cinematography is wonderful – vivid colours with pale blue as a central theme, verdant pastoral scenery, all beautifully lit – and the sets are opulent, a visual feast. Jacqueline Durran’s costume design is breathtaking, with some of the gowns reminiscent of John Galliano’s work for Dior. This kind of attention to minute detail is rare enough in modern cinema and brings to mind the work of Baz Luhrman or perhaps Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.
Anna Karenina garnered criticism for its stylised feel but I loved it. The novel is so long and complex that this theatrical approach works well, compressing pages and pages into compact scenes that have a huge visual impact and tell the story in a unique way. If you didn’t get to see this in the cinema, rent it immediately. You’re in for a treat.
*(Incidentally IMRO are hosting a talk with Marianelli on 19th February on composing for film; an amazing opportunity to hear the insights of an Academy Award winner. There’s also a concert of his work on in the National Concert Hall that evening as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.)