After his moderately successful move to the action/thriller genre with Hanna, director Joe Wright returns to the familiar territory of period dramas and love stories with the latest adaptation of Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy’s novel from the 19th century.
The story of young aristocratic woman, Anna, and her doomed affair with Count Vronsky reaches to far greater depths than Wright’s Pride and Prejudice or Atonement. Starring Wright’s seemingly favourite heroine Keira Knightley (who took both leading roles in Wright’s aforementioned titles) as Anna, Jude Law as Alexei Karenin, and Aaron Johnson as Count Vronsky, the film also benefits from supporting roles played by Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, and Emily Watson.
The much frowned upon affair between Anna and Vronsky is a sad story that induces a chain of events leading to a tragic outcome. Set against a backdrop of Imperial Russia 1874, Anna enjoys life as a socialite, a popular and very beautiful woman. Anna’s nine-year marriage to Alexei Karenin comes under threat when Anna is introduced to Vronsky: a dashingly handsome calvary officer. Immediately, Anna’s life is transformed. She begins to exist only for Vronsky, leaving her statesman husband, who is 20 years her senior, to face the humiliation of his wife’s betrayal.
Wright had his work cut out for him with Anna Karenina. Far from the idyllic, sedate world of Austen, this film is a harsh reality check for women who, around that time, would have to give up everything, including their children, if they strayed from the path cut out for them by their husbands. Wright tackles the sad story with vigour.
With the majority of the film set on a literal stage – a nod perhaps to previous stage performances, or to the fact this is a storybook – Anna Karenina is brought to the audience as a visual feast. Moving between scenes in a dream-like sequence, the characters dressed exquisitely, according to their personalities, Anna Karenina brings something diverse to the screen.
Knightley handles the role of Anna with perhaps a few too many tears, but it is Law’s Alexei, the weak and forgiving husband, who really surprises in his role – when did Jude Law step down from the role of heart throb, to the man being cheated on?
As Anna and Vronsky move away together, Anna transforms from a social butterfly to the paranoid mistress of Vronsky; a transformation that brings out some quality acting from Knightley.
Anna Karenina is bold. It tells a very tragic story in an unusual format, bringing a familiar storyline to life in a unique and successful way. The feature length does seem a little excessive, with the entwining of a couple of other storylines, but overall, this is one film worth watching, particularly if you are knowledgeable of Tolstoy’s work, or a fan of Wright’s directing.
Watch the trailer here: