When a the wife of Alexi Karenin (son of Serozha) a significant figure in Russian politics falls in love with a younger man, it was never going to end well. My review of Joe Wright’s take on the classic Leo Tolstoy novel Anna Karenina after the jump.
Anna Karenina (Keira Knightly) is a popular and admired socialite, who is the wife of a well-respected political figure (Alexi Karenin, played by Jude Law) and the mother to a young son. Anna seems to have it all – wealth, privilege and a position in the upper echelons of Moscow society. Anna however, is bored. It only takes a small amount of flirting by the seasoned ladies man Count Alexi Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnston) to lead Anna off the “proper” path that is expected of a married woman.
Anna not only shames her herself with her actions, but by being so indiscreet about her feelings for the Count, she also causes her husband to lose considerable face. This isn’t the done thing, and in return society punishes Anna. Is Anna and the Count’s lust really love; and even so, is it worth the sacrifice? Anna has committed an unforgivable sin, one that could see her lose everything, including her child.
Director Joe Wright chose to set Anna Karenina on a stage as if the film is actually a lavish production, and we the audience are actually watching a stage show and not a film. The ballroom is simply the stage with some props; the train between Moscow and Saint Petersberg is only a set, it doesn’t move; and the field is just a small amount of greenery in front of a painting of a beautiful countryside vista. It’s a credit to the film-makers that this works. There a times I think they have taken liberties with the “staging”, but for the most part it’s true to the innovative idea and it is executed it a very impressive fashion.
In fact it is the aesthetics of the film which are its strongest feature. Both the staging/sets and the costumes are detailed, rich and appropriate for the time. The film is a visual feast and I very much enjoyed seeing the “tricks” employed to set the film within the theatre. However, this only distracts from the dullness and lack of depth in the film for only so long, and by the halfway mark I began to tire of the film.
Anna Karenina is a story that has been told many times before, and in this version there is very little change to the actual story. Nothing has been modernised and there are no new angles. In fact, the story is rather stale. This is an old story and there is nothing here that we haven’t seen before. Unfortunately this means once your interest in the unusual way the film is set has worn off, the film becomes, well boring. I only wish the film-makers could have been as inventive with the story and/or characters, as they were with the way the film was staged.
Anna isn’t supposed to be a likeable character, but it’s hard to be invested in her story when you believe she is the one who has sealed her own fate. Knightly does a fine job playing herself as a mostly scowling upper-class period-piece woman – Joe Wright really needs to find another leading lady for inspiration. Jude Law is the surprise here – he plays the reserved and refined Alexi with a real grim determination and subtly. It was a pleasure to see him in this type of role. Supporting cast are for the most part quite good, with Matthew Macfadyen particular impressive (channelling Kevin Kline) as Anna’s witty brother.
While the technical elements of Anna Karenina are impressive, this is not enough to overcome the tired story. I enjoyed the visual splendour of the settings and lush costumes; but my mind wanted a story it could invest in, and in this aspect the film was lacking.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Joe Wright
Writer(s): Tom Stoppard (screenplay), Leo Tolstoy (novel)
Starring: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Runtime: 129 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: February 14 2013; New Zealand: January 31 2013; USA: November 16 2012 (limited)