by Kelly Dent
Anna Karenina (2012)
Director: Joe Wright
Screenplay: Tom Stoppard
Music: Dario Marianelli
Lead Cast: Kiera Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Matthew Macfadyen
Leo Tolstoy’s 1877 novel Anna Karenina can easily be described as that great work of literature which captures the essence of Russian writing: it is robust, poignant, and gently draws the reader’s attention to a plethora of social and political issues. It tells the story of Anna, a young wife and mother who, while visiting her brother and his wife in Moscow, meets Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a handsome and passionate young officer who will change her life in a way she never thought possible. Her love affair with Vronsky is Anna’s awakening as well as her ruin. This is, in short, the story of a fallen woman and the consequences she suffers in 19th century Russian society.
Anna Karenina is arguably one of Tolstoy’s more well-known and profound novels – but how is this tragedy of epic proportions interpreted in its most recent adaptation? Director Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement) and dramatist Tom Stoppard (Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Rock’n’Roll) come together to bring audiences the twelfth film adaptation of Tolstoy’s masterpiece. With so many predecessors, this film could not afford to be your average, run-of-the-mill period film (though designer Jacqueline Durran sees to it that we’re dazzled by the actual costumes). With two titans of film and stage at the head of this production, this could never come close to being ‘just’ another pretty costume drama. No; what they give us is an original yet theatrical interpretation of a well-loved classic – and when I write ‘theatrical’, I really do mean it!
Highly dynamic camera angles and flowing physical movement of characters on-screen draw the audience in, however most of the plot unfolds in one place – in a theatre, on a stage. Tolstoy is known to have disliked plays and the theatre in general, so what is Stoppard doing here? Admittedly, the theatre-format may raise a few eyebrows initially, but it soon becomes clear that the juxtaposition of onstage versus offstage environments runs parallel to the appearance/reality dichotomy characteristic of high-society life. The unusual setting is all about putting on a show – acting in a particular way under the scrutiny of an audience. Once Anna’s public and private lives become intertwined, rules are broken and the emotional and psychological turbulence truly begins.
Anna Karenina is a visual masterpiece which showcases the artistic maturity and refined skill of two actors in particular: Keira Knightley and Jude Law, who plays Anna’s husband. Both of them bring a subtle intensity to their roles, making this latest adaptation one worth watching. The last half hour or so causes the viewer’s heart to beat that little bit faster; it nudges the audience to the very edge of their seats as Anna’s fate is unveiled before them. In short, it is spectacular. After the credits roll and the lights are back on, you will be speechless, in awe, but filled with questions.