is acclaimed director Joe Wright’s bold, theatrical new vision of the epic story of love, stirringly adapted from Leo Tolstoy’s great novel by Academy Award winner Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love
). The film marks the third collaboration of the director with Academy Award-nominated actress Keira Knightley and Academy Award-nominated producers Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, and Paul Webster, following their award-winning box office successes Pride & Prejudice
. The timeless story powerfully explores the capacity for love that surges through the human heart, while illuminating the lavish society that was imperial Russia.
The year is 1874. Vibrant and beautiful, Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) has what any of her contemporaries would aspire to: she is the wife of Karenin (Jude Law), a high-ranking government official to whom she has borne a son, and her social standing in St. Petersburg could scarcely be higher. She journeys to Moscow after a letter from her philandering brother Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) arrives, asking for Anna to come and help save his marriage to Dolly (Kelly Macdonald). En route, Anna makes the acquaintance of Countess Vronsky (Olivia Williams), who is then met at the train station by her son, the dashing cavalry officer Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). When Anna is introduced to Vronsky, there is a mutual spark of instant attraction that cannot--and will not--be ignored.
Talk about setting yourself a tough task. Director Joe Wright, off the back of acclaim for earlier films such as Hanna
, decided to plump for an adaptation of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina
. Adapted, with some wise excisions, by Tom Stoppard, the story is set in 1874, and centres on the title character, played by Keira Knightley. Anna is in a respectable marriage, and yet succumbs to temptation when she embarks on an affair, risking her social standing as she does so. Also, there's the small matter of her brother, played by Matthew Macfayden, who has marital infidelities of his own on his mind.
Wright decides to juggle and frame this potentially complex narrative by use of theatre. Literally, as it happens, as his take on Anna Karenina uses the location of a theatre extensively and creatively to tell its tale. It doesn't always work, but it does usually engage, and the production design is simply exquisite.
There's no shortage of quality performances here too, with Knightley strong in the lead role, and Jude Law excellent as her husband. Perhaps the real star here though is the director himself. Anna Karenina may not always fully gel, but it's a fascinating, engaging adaptation of a rarely-tackled text. Wright's audio commentary is well worth a listen, too... --Jon Foster
By filming Leo Tolstoy's timeless novel as a series of theater pieces that play out across stages and catwalks, Joe Wright extracts Anna Karenina from the dusty pages of history. In her third collaboration with the filmmaker, Keira Knightley portrays the St. Petersburg aristocrat as a woman who loves her son, Sergei, more than her husband, Alexei Karenin (Jude Law). On a trip to Moscow, she meets Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), whose Snidely Whiplash mustache spells trouble, even as his sky-blue eyes prove impossible to resist. Wright contrasts their passionate union with the less cataclysmic concerns of Anna's sister-in-law, Dolly (Boardwalk Empire's Kelly Macdonald), whose capacity for forgiveness puts Alexei to shame, and Levin (Harry Potter's Domhnall Gleeson), who never gives up on Dolly's sister, Kitty (Alicia Vikander), even after she rejects him in hopes of a more glamorous future. When the affair between Anna and Vronsky becomes public, Tolstoy's antiheroine risks losing everything, but as readers know: she just can't help herself. Though Shakespeare in Love screenwriter Tom Stoppard ties together a colorful galaxy of characters who orbit around the photogenic central couple, the secondary performers provide the more deeply grounded performances, particularly Law and Gleeson. And for all the stylized, Douglas Sirk-inspired melodrama, Knightley's Pride & Prejudice costar, Matthew Macfadyen, who plays Dolly's wayward husband, lightens the mood whenever he utters one of his clever quips. If it isn't completely successful, Wright's reinvention is frequently quite dazzling--much like the genuine Chanel diamonds that illuminate Knightley's porcelain complexion. --Kathleen C. Fennessy