As a big fan of Joe Wright’s work I have finally managed to get round to watching Anna Karenina. Being a lover of costume drama I had high hopes for the film, however it was rather different from what I had in mind…
Dir: Joe Wright / UK / 2012 / 130 mins / 12A
Joe Wright’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina stands apart from the several others that have been done before him due to his imagination, creativity and his postmodernist take on filmmaking.
The tragic story of a married aristocrat torn between a passionate love affair and maintaining her status in 19th century high Russian society, is adapted in a refreshing way in that Wright uses an old majestic theatre as the setting to unravel her tale. The majority of the story is divulged within the confined walls of the theatre and this is demonstrated by the changing backdrops, dances that lead to new settings or moments in time, and also through objects such as toy trains being used to portray the train journeys that take Anna away from Russia.
This created effect of making a film that feels as though you are in a theatre is both inspiring and interesting yet also quite claustrophobic at times. Although the set can be beautiful and imaginative, rare scenes such as the ones where we follow the peasant, Levin, break away from the confinement of the theatre walls come as a refreshing change.
With a screenplay by Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in love) and production design by Sarah Greenwood (Atonement) Wright is known for working with the same crew members and this can be said for his cast also. A valuable actress since her seventeen year old debut as Lara in Campiotti’s Doctor Zhivago and a clear muse for Wright, this is the third film he has chosen Keira Knightly as a lead. However, although her performance is strong it is not until she begins to become more emotional that I had any impression for her performance. Jude Law, however is the surprise performance, playing a character unlike his standard charming type and evokes sympathy at times which can’t always be said in the case for Anna.
As the film follows her destructive path, falling out of Russian society, dividing Anna between her husband and child to bask in her passionate affair, we feel less sympathetic for her, and in her last act of suffering as she commits suicide there is not the same dramatic effect as Wright was able to create in both Atonement and Pride and Prejudice.
All that said it is still definitely worth a visit to the cinema for the cinematography alone. There is also a treat of British talent, including Ruth Wilson and Kelly MacDonald, which although, small in part, add an extra bonus to the film.
The magic in Wright’s film lies in the emotions of the characters being reflected in the way in which he films Anna Karenina. The idea of the film being mostly shot in a studio, created as a theatre, was not only due to budget reasons and vision but because it encapsulates a crucial theme in the novel, that the life in Russian society is like being on a stage and is also how Anna see’s life and it is our opportunity to see this too.