It’s embarrassing to admit that I’ve never read any Russian literature, but after watching Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s epic novel, Anna Karenina has firmly made its way on to my to-read list.
Reuniting director Joe Wright with his favourite leading lady, Keira Knightley (the pair also worked together on Pride And Prejudice and Atonement), this adaptation was flash, brash and as mystifying as it was maddening.
From the opening credits, it became apparent that we, the audience, were sitting inside a theatre, the actors depicting their story on the stage right in front of us. Curtains were lifted, scenery was walked off-stage, ropes were pulled, scenes were set… It was a homage to theatre. Which is odd, as the book is resolutely a novel, and the film was resolutely a, er, film rather than a play.
But as Jude Law (who stars in the film in a – shock! – non-sexy youngish guy role) said when interviewed by Andrew Marr – the book is all about performances, from the aristocratically affected Russians speaking in French to the decadence of their dress. In short: it was all a show. And what better way to represent this than by giving us a performance within a performance?
The story is, obviously, a tragedy: Anna’s decline from beautiful wife, mother and socialite to paranoid outcast is not easy to watch. However, this emotion did not always convey very clearly on-screen: it was lost amongst the extravagance and decadence that Wright seemed determined to pack into every scene. Scenes were swamped with movement and excitement (just look at the poster to get a taste of what I mean) and the Significant Things weren’t always easy to spot. Magical moments like the dance scene between Anna and Vronsky quickly remind you of the passion behind the story – although the fact that Anna’s death is so unmoving – when we know that it’s trying to be – is a little troubling.
However, other than that, I adored it. Keira Knightley is fantastic as heroine Anna and Jude Law is movingly convincing in his portrayal of her frustratingly well-meaning and mild government minister husband, Karenin. Joe Wright is consistently brilliant, kind of like a less-jazzy Baz Luhrmann, and Taylor-Johnson, who I last watched playing the hero in Super Bad, was more than swoon-worthy as the passionate (if slightly stalkerish) Vronsky.
It is, in places, confusing. My ignorance of Russian history outside of a module at A-Level means I have no real understanding of why there were so many princesses scattered around, and I also found some of the names a little tricky to keep up with. When kind-hearted Levin was first introduced, I thought, at first, that his name was Lenin. Cue much confusion about why the Bolshevik leader was popping up in this doomed love story – however, after a bit you get so involved in the various intertwining stories that you don’t really care.
What did you think of the film?
The TYC Book Club’s October book of the month – have you read Anna Karenina? Or are you planning on doing so? We’ll be discussing it next month!
Anna Karenina is in cinemas now