Anna Karenina tells Leo Tolstoy’s classic story of love and betrayal in Imperial Russia. With a cast full of huge names (Keira Knightley, Jude Law & Aaron Johnson to name but a few) and prolific director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice) I had high expectations,
Anna (Keira Knightley) is a socialite married to Alexie Karenin (Jude Law). She begins a torrid affair with the young and charming Count Alexi Vronsky (Aaron Johnson). Anna and Alexie live in St Petersburg with their son Serozha. After her brother Prince Stepan “Stiva” Oblonsk (Matthew Macfadyen) is caught cheating on his wife with governess and is subsequently banished from their house and from seeing their children, Anna is called to Moscow to help her brother win back his wife. The film shows Anna’s navigation through the Russian high society and her eventual downfall from aristocracy due to her affair with Count Vronsky. Basically, it’s an episode of Gossip Girl set in the 1870s.
The artistic direction and cinematography throughout the film are stunning; and I’d argue better than the actual content of the film. The whole story is set in a theatre (possibly a metaphor for how the Russian socialites lived their whole lives on a stage), and this really added to the overall atmosphere of the film. As do the stunning costumes (lavish dresses, especially in the grandiose ball room scenes) and beautiful score by academy award winning composer Dario Marianelli. All of these help set the scene of decadence (and corruption) that was abundant in Imperial Russia. However, I’m not sure how well they (specifically the setting of the film in a theatre) transferred to the small screen. On a huge cinema screen everything looked gorgeous; but on the small screen of a television or computer it’s not as obvious that it’s set in an old theatre. Instead shots can look clumsy, and the grandiose atmosphere of Russian aristocracy that was set so well on the silver screen is lost.
This film shows Knightley back at her best. After a mediocre performance in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World she depicts Anna fantastically. Going from a well-liked and affluent socialite to a broken, fragile woman; and portraying the damaged Anna with real sensitivity. It’s also worth mentioning Jude Law’s transformation into Alexie Karenin. The physical makeover is shocking, with Law being almost unrecognisable. However, his depiction of Alexie alongside it is also worth mentioning.
My only major criticism is that there is so much going on that at some points it’s difficult to follow. The introduction of characters is hurried so I did find myself wondering who half the minor characters were. However as the film goes on you generally start to remember which characters are which and how they are all connected, but there is still some haziness around the lesser characters and how they relate to the plot.
Despite this confusion around the characters, Anna Karenina is an entertaining 2 hours. The actors are largely excellent, and the cinematography, costumes and music are gorgeous. It may be Joe Wright and Keira Knightley doing what they always do (period dramas); but they do it damn well.
Anna Karenina (2012), directed by Joe Wright, is released on Blu-ray disc and DVD by Universal Pictures, Certificate 12.