Director: Joe Wright
Screenplay: Tom Stoppard
Starring: Keira Knightly, Jude Law
Length: 140 mins
Same old, same old; the book is highly superior to the film. This is an almost excessively stylised version of an epic literary classic, which doesn’t do any huge injustice to Tolstoy’s 950 pager, it just makes it far too theatrical.
Joe Wright, the director famous for his works Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, (which I think were far more loyal pieces of cinema) sets this work in a theatre in 1870s Russia. The scenes move seamlessly in and around the stage and the auditorium with the film being almost entirely choreographed like an opera. This romantic, pulsing movement, set to a string-heavy Tchaikovsky-esque score is one of Wright’s triumphs with the film; a fluidity and musicality permeates the plot as if it were a fairy-tale ballet. The other triumph is the style, with both truly divine costume reminiscent of 50s Dior Haute Couture and lavish art design.
Although an interesting interpretation, there are very unsubtle uses of the flies and wings as metaphorical moments, where characters such as ‘society’ and ‘servants’ are quite literally watching from the wings, onto the passion of the film’s central drama. And much drama there is too.
With Tom Stoppard’s nifty screenplay, there is only just about time to get swept up in one of Keira Knightly’s vast silk gowns to be consumed by all the wondrous and woeful types of love Tolstoy presents, let alone have time to muse on the political and social commentary that make Anna such a panoramic read.
“if you find Keira Knightly’s jaw as irritating as I do, then you’ll sympathise with the book’s character more than the film’s”
But, let’s be honest, you will be watching this for the Russian romance, not the contextual grit. Unfortunately however, it’s distinctly un-Russian, and it’s also not particularly romantic. The settings are far too fantasy-like to invoke any idea of how grim and cold Russia actually is, and the sweeping theatrics don’t lend themselves well to intimate moments. Alas, whilst not moving emotionally, Karenina’s plight does centre on a very poignant question: to cheat or not to cheat?
Knightly portrays Anna’s strife at cheating on her husband with the young Count Vronsky and bearing his child with tragic lust in good measure. But if you find Keira Knightly’s jaw as irritating as I do, then you’ll sympathise with the book’s character more than the film’s. Sympathy abounds however for the parallel storyline. Stoppard cleverly weaves into the script Tolstoy’s message that carnal love isn’t really a good idea with the characters Levin (Gleeson) and Kitty (Vikander); their honest, loyal companionship is the most moving performance of the film, and the most poignant counterpoint to Anna’s tempestuous affair.