The latest screen adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s tragic novel Anna Karenina has been one of the most highly anticipated films of 2012. Directed by Atonement’s Joe Wright, and with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard of Shakespeare in Love fame, it also features a sparkling cast, including Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Keira Knightley as the ill-fated heroine.
For those not familiar with the plot, Anna Karenina is the aristocratic wife of important political figure Aleksei Karenin (Jude Law). She is highly admired in 19th century Russian society, and is adored by her husband, son and family. However, a chance meeting with young Count Vronsky (Taylor- Johnson) on a trip to Moscow throws her normally stable life into chaos, as she embarks upon an illicit affair with him.
Desperate to cling onto his wife and reputation, Aleksei agrees for Anna to continue her infidelity, as long as she is discreet. But nothing stays a secret for long in society, and whispers soon begin to emerge. When Anna learns that she is pregnant, she is forced to stop seeing Vronsky, or risk losing her position, home, and access to her son. Unable to live with the consequences of her decision, she leaves Aleksei and her son to live with Vronsky, a scandal unheard of in those times. I won’t reveal too much about what happens subsequent to this…
This film was really interesting to watch, as it had a number of techniques within it that were so unlike anything I have seen before. The whole production was set up to look like it was being performed on stage, so scene transitions showed furniture being moved around, backdrops being lifted and characters undergoing costumes changes as they acted. The camera would then zoom in to the action, and then when it zoomed out, the characters would actually be in the landscapes that the stage had originally set up. Freeze frames were used to emphasise certain scenes, for instance the dance sequence in which Karenina and Vronsky first meet, which is beautiful to watch. It gave the whole piece a very dramatic and vintage feel, which I loved as it emanated the romanticism of theatre during the 19th century.
The cinematography as a whole was something to be admired, as at times the camera focused on tiny details, like the eye of a horse before a race, or ribbons on a dress fluttering in the breeze. It made the action very four dimensional to watch, as it heightened the senses to pick up subtle sounds and textures that would otherwise have been missed.
With regards to casting, there wasn’t a weak link in sight. Each role seemed to have been hand-picked to perfection, from Anna’s loud, womanising brother Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) to the meddling gossip Countess Lydia (Emily Watson). My particular favourites were Alicia Vikander and Domhnall Gleeson as the young lovers Kitty and Levin, who have a gorgeous scene together towards the end where they use children’s wooden letter blocks to hold a conversation. Keira Knightley in my opinion put in one of her best performances to date. I have not taken to her in the past, finding her a little typecast and clichéd. But the passion and range of emotion that she showed whilst portraying Karenina was excellent, and she really brought the trauma of the character to life.
As you have probably picked up from my enthusiasm, I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and think it is a really unique piece of cinema that is slick, gripping and full of emotion, and would therefore highly recommend it. As someone who is very into fashion as well, the costumes were absolutely amazing!