I adore the novel, so I will be discussing Joe Wright's take on it and where it ranks amongst other adaptations but I will of course look at its merits as a film aside from the novel.
As a whole adaptation, this version falls somewhere in the middle. Even without all the metatheatrical trappings, it still took an interesting and valid approach to the novel, proving that the novel could be adapted until infinity and it would still be fresh each time. As readers of the novel would know, there is much more to it than Anna's affair. Tolstoy did not write vague types: he wrote fully-fleshed characters, and Tom Stoppard's screenplay acknowledged Tolstoy's style. Therefore I don't want to condemn the film outright because that would overshadow the things that it does get right.
Keira Knightley's version of Anna is not nearly as bad as you would think. She has the sense to restrain herself a little so that the many other elements of the novel shine through. She goes for the unsympathetic approach and it works. All her mannerisms that I generally find annoying- the schoolgirl smirking and rampant nymphomania- actually work for this role. This Anna takes Vronsky just because she can, and then ultimately regrets it. We can feel her frustration: she's young and wants to have fun but she's tied down to a stuffy older husband. In that sense, it's quite a modern interpretation, but not hideously so.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Count Vronsky was just miscast. If the novel had been about Anna seducing a schoolboy, he would have been great, but Vronsky is meant to be a dashing man. The styling is atrocious- he looks like a seventies Scandinavian Eurovision entry. Wright seems to have told some of the actors to act realistic and some to play up to the stylised setting. Taylor-Johnson plays the artifice so much that he just comes off as camp and sleazy. The scene where he is about to ride Frou Frou is like a production of Equus and there's a love scene with Keira Knightley that brought to mind an old advert for Philadelphia cheese. Their revelation of love is also poorly dealt with. Anna has some kind of fantasy dream where the two have an "erotic ballet" and suddenly they're banging away, presumably now in the real world.
Jude Law as Karenin. A bizarre choice when he could have played Vronsky five years ago and might even get away with it now at a push. However, he gives a performance that is probably his best. His Karenin is a bureaucrat through and through. Other adaptations have still made Karenin an attractive option. This Karenin is certainly not going to develop any great passion soon. We also see how he is manipulated by moral guardian Countess Lydia. If Law is trying to make a reputation as a serious actor, he's on the right path.
And what about all that pretentious theatre stuff? It seriously slows down the pace in the first third but once you get used to it, you can just enjoy the film. The ending is rather abrupt (no, that famous ending is not the last scene) but quite poignant.
Action / Drama / Romance
Action / Drama / Romance
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In 1874, in the Imperial Russia, the aristocratic Anna Karenina travels from Saint Petersburg to Moscow to save the marriage of her brother Prince Oblonsky, who had had a love affair with his housemaid. Anna Karenina has a cold marriage with her husband, Count Alexei Karenin, and they have a son. Anna meets the cavalry officer Count Vronsky at the train station and they feel attracted by each other. Soon she learns that Vronsky will propose to Kitty, who is the younger sister of her sister-in-law Dolly. Anna satisfactorily resolves the infidelity case of her brother and Kitty invites her to stay for the ball. However, Anna Karenina and Vronsky dance in the ball, calling the attention of the conservative society. Soon they have a love affair that will lead Anna Karenina to a tragic fate.
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