What else can be said about Anna Karenina, one of the books that were read, brought to stage and screen so many times? We think that we know the action and the characters, and it takes quite an amount of courage for the director and the team who undertakes a new staging or film based upon Tolstoy’s novel to believe that new things can be said and a fresh perspective created, and quite an amount of talent to make it happen. This is the challenge that script author Tom Stoppard and director Joe Wright decided to take upon with making a 21st century version of Anna Karenina and to a large extent I believe that they succeeded.

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt1781769/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt1781769/

 

Maybe I should not be that surprised with Joe Wright. Atonement (also staring Keira Knightley) which I liked a lot had the patient building of the characters and an exquisite capability of melding into the period it dealt with and bringing it to screen. I liked less The Soloist but maybe that was the exception. The idea in this version of Anna Karenina is to transpose literally to screen the concept that ‘the world is a stage’. The story takes place in the world of the aristocracy and high bureaucracy of the last decades of the Russian empire. We all know the history of the crumbling of that empire where the few ruled over a world of misery and suffering they chose to ignore, a world that will soon take revenge. Instead of investing into recreating realistic or naturalistic imagery  of that world, Wright and Stoppard create a theater, one of these fabulous theater houses that were raised in the 19th century Europe, and makes the whole action a play with windows opening to a reality that also is more idealized as in the neo-classical paintings of the period. It’s a daring concept, it takes a few minutes to get used and accept it, but then the action starts to flow and as a view you can focus on the characters – and there is enough novelty here as well for the whole film to be interesting. At some point the concept reminded me Scorsese‘s Hugo, especially as trains and railway stations play a special role in Tolstoy’s novels. but Wright stops a step behind in creating such a complex and wonderful world as Scorsese’s Paris or maybe he is just not Scorsese (yet?).

 

(video source FilmTrailerZone)

 

I was not especially thrilled by Keira Knightley‘s performance, and if I am to add the fade performance of Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky, I would say that the two make an uninspired pair of lovers. Luckily they are the only uninspired choice in this film,  as Jude Law gives life and a new perspective to Karenin’s character, Domhall Gleeson shows that there is life after Harry Potter, and together with Alicia Vikander make the lovable pair of this version (as Levin and Kitty). (Vikander is a star in becoming, I loved her acting also in A Royal Affair). At the end they add the dose of emotion everybody seeks in such screenings to declare them successful, which is added to the interesting conception and the fresh perspective on some of the characters in order to make of this Anna Karenina not only a visually beautiful version of the story, but also a film to watch for a few more good reasons.