Anna Karenina's all-star cast, production details and unique classical score help transport the viewer to the intricate world of Leo Tolstoy's pre-revolution Russia, where love in all of its phases is challenged by the imposed class divisions and societal standards of Russian aristocracy — albeit with a predominantly British cast and script.
The scenography is particularly enthralling, with amazing details in wardrobe design, lighting and makeup, complete with theater facade and proscenium arch. Splendid surreal transitions between scenes portray a theatrical look; painted backdrops move and props transform in a glimpse. Camera angles aren't stagnant, and the audience gets a lot of dynamism for a period piece.
Following recognition in romantic period dramas such as Atonement (2002) and Pride and Prejudice (2005), director Joe Wright takes on an adaptation of one of the most complex love stories of modern times.
For the role inhabited by Greta Garbo, Vivien Leigh and Sophie Marceau, Wright chooses his favorite muse, Keira Knightley to embody Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. She is the wife of Count Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin (Jude Law), a stoic man, who loves his wife and his only son deeply. The two seem to make a great couple, but Karenina falls passionately for a young soldier, Count Vronsky (Aaron Tayor-Johnson) — despite her better judgment.
Wright's movie dwells on her deep feelings of lust and guilt, but of course, Knightley is not nearly as complex and multifaceted as Tolstoy's Karenina.
The subplots offer some different, contrasting perspectives on love. Karenina’s brother Stiva (Matthew Macfadyen) is a very cheerful guy who has been caught having affairs around Moscow. Meanwhile, Konstantin
(Domhnall Gleeson) represents the lighter side of love. He has a much more traditional and pure romance, rooted in the countryside.
Academy Award-winner Tom Stoppard has crafted an arresting script from a very long novel — no easy feat, and it's one of those films that reveal more subtleties during a second or third viewing.
But there’s something about Karenina’s relationships that seem too stylized, almost hermetic.
I was not completely taken by her sufferings and tribulations; they seem a bit whiny. Maybe it's the fast pace of the film; it doesn’t let you digest the complicated situations that develop more gradually in the book.
But overall the film is a great homage to a very Russian story. It will captivate the audience with its artfulness and its truly passionate moments.