After a foray into the world of the action thriller with 2011’s Hanna, director Joe Wright has returned to the costume drama. He made his name with the Award-magnets Pride & Prejudice and Atonement – lush British films that both starred that Marmite of the acting world, Ms Keira Knightley.
I am a Keira fan, and an admirer of Joe Wright. He is a director who really does understand how to play with the viewers emotions without being crass. His version of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, which is written by Tom Stoppard, is a flawed gem; a thing of great beauty that isn’t quite the success it should be.
Wright certainly puts his print on the story of the mother who runs off with a young military man, leaving her child and dull husband behind her. He sets the whole picture within a theatre, as if actors are putting on a production for an invisible audience, merging scenes filmed on a stage with location shots. It’s a bold move, and dazzles and befuddles in equal measure. For every three scenes that work, there is one that feels awkward and forced. The actors don’t seem clear if they are going for a stagey-feel or a brutally realistic effect. In the end, the results are mixed.
Even so, there is still a lot to relish. The phrase ‘feast for the senses’ was invented for films like this. Even the weaker scenes are put together with an artistic flourish that has to be admired. Wright and his cinematographer Seamus McGarvey have made a film that looks good enough to eat, hang on your wall and upholster your furniture with.
The acting, as I have already indicated, isn’t entirely spot-on, but they all have a jolly good go. Keira Knightley is very convincing as Anna, as is Jude Law as her husband. I did have some doubts about the shockingly-gorgeous Aaron Taylor-Johnson (star of Nowhere Boy and Kick-Ass), but in the end he did impress me with the way he handled the role of Count Vronsky, Anna’s lover.
Wright’s theatrical vision (which was, apparently, dreamed up in order to keep within the film’s budget) may not go down in history as the most definitive adaptation of Anna Karenina, but it is certainly one of the bravest and most interesting. Cinema this adventurous and daring should be respected, even if it never truly manages to touch the heights of genius it so beautifully attempts to reach.
Anna Karenina (2012), directed by Joe Wright, is distributed in the UK by Universal Pictures, Certificate 12A.