With director Joe Wright claiming he forbade Keira Knightley’s easily recognisable pout and over exaggerated chin thrust, she manages to progress within the role of Anna Karenina, portraying her passion and urgency to full effect.
Having previously worked with Wright on both Atonement and Pride and Prejudice, Knightley fits easily into this period drama role. Anna manages to portray herself initially as a woman of great social standing and her perseverance to remain an upstanding figure, regardless of her infidelity. is powerful.
Her interactions with Law as her respectful husband Karenin, reveal Knightley’s maturity and you can begin to warm to her as an actress, for the first time.
As with any film adaptation of a treasured novel, audiences and critics are harsh; were the right actors cast and are the vital points of the novel commanding enough attention- Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is no exception.
The very structure of the film, within the singular settings of a Russian theatre, ultimately takes away some of the beauty which would have been added with shots of St Petersburg and Moscow.
However, the mastery with which Wright commands the setting creates much more resonance than conventional film structure would. The film has an air of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, beginning to almost comedic effect, controlled by Anna’s brother, Stiva.
Although the central example within the novel of an adulterous man who is able to maintain his social standing and freedom, Matthew Macfadyen as Stiva Oblonsky adds to the theatrics of the initial scenes and creates a sense of disillusion from the outset.
The setting of the theatre will definitely alienate some of the audience. The whirlwind pace with which the film develops leaves you attempting to keep up at times, rather than being able to sit back and enjoy the aesthetic value which the intricate costume design affords. The film is ultimately stunning and stays faithful to Tolstoy’s criticism of upper class Russian’s who conducted themselves as though they were on stage.
The film focuses on intelligent aristocrat Anna (Knightley) who as a passionate and new liberated breed of socialite, falls for the charms of Count Vronsky (Johnson) Their subsequent hardship in both maintaining their relationship away from her husband Karenin (Law) and in the face of Russia’s elite dominates.
Jude Law as Anna’s scorned husband, Alexei, remains cold and unattached throughout the film- the novel describes him as a man who feels empty in regards to Anna’s composure and he plays this exactly. In smart dress as a government official, Law takes a back seat to the drama, yet his presence is intelligent and leaves the audience to make their own conclusions to how he perceives the situation.
As Vronsky, Aaron Taylor Johnson feels cold and too young for the situation he finds himself in. His initial interactions with Anna command much of the theatrics, a particular dance scene in which everyone stops to stare as they move between them, quickly contrast to how he feels out of his depth with his new lover. Within the novel, Vronsky’s true nature is never explicitly revealed and his lack of insight in regards to the situation show Johnson’s vulnerability within this role.
The important sub plot is led by brilliant actors Domhnall Gleeson as Levin and Alicia Vikander as Kitty. After an initial rejection, Levin, an aristocratic landowner wins Kitty’s hand is marriage and they provide a sincere element to the film. Although at times their courtship and marriage occasionally sink into the background, their strong union proves a marked contract to that of the main tragic love affair.
The frailty of Kitty coupled with Levin’s philosophical outlook create stand out performances from this young couple proving a true testament to Tolstoy’s artistic convictions.
Anna Karenina is showing now- for Liverpool One Odeon cinema times