Thursday, 18 October 2012

‘Anna Karenina’: A Review

by Louisa Stark

Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina

I remember seeing the trailer for the first time. The words of Tolstoy fading onto the screen, "There are as many kinds of love as there are hearts", before launching into a beautiful symphony of swirling silk, sumptuous sets, nineteenth century Russia and Keira Knightley; I practically swooned. After watching it countless times on repeat, an opportunity to see the new adaptation of Anna Karenina at the cinema came in the form of how to entertain a Swedish student, Jenny, who loved costume dramas --- perfect! Ashamedly, I am yet to read the novel, but, even without any preconceptions, my expectations were high.

Oh, how I sighed with disappointment.  The majority of the film was set in a theatre, presumably to mirror the theatricality of 19th century Russian society, against which the story of love and adultery unfolds – a seemingly inspired concept, updating a story that could easily slip into the tepid territory of traditional costume drama.  In reality, such highly choreographed set changes taking place within one space, as flamboyant and energetic as they were, conflicted completely with the story.  After all, is Anna Karenina not considered to be one of the great masterpieces of the Realist movement?  For a few brief scenes, the action strayed outside of the theatre, but the significance of these interludes was unclear, therefore losing any symbolism that had been intended.  Besides, had this been a low-budget film such ingenuity ought to be commended, but as a purely creative decision it failed.
Visually, the film was gorgeous, but what else could be expected from the director who gave us that emerald dress in Atonement and those ‘Coco Mademoiselle’ commercials? I have always been a fan of Joe Wright’s artistic eye for colour and composition alongside his storytelling, though, in this case, style triumphed over substance.  For me, the film was devoid of any emotion, which this famous tragedy could have offered; it was like flicking through the pages of Vogue: I my interest was vaguely enticed, but I was ultimately left unsatisfied.

Jude Law as Alexei Karenin
As well as showing off Jacqueline Durran’s exquisite costumes to perfection, Keira Knightley’s performance as Anna was solid, though much the same as her role in the 2008 film The Duchess. The real revelation was Jude Law’s portrayal of her long-suffering husband Alexei Karenin, who managed to be unlikeable, whilst at the same time commanding almost as much sympathy as the heroine. However, this was not enough to engage or even to ebb the tedium which began to steal over me as one scene affectedly changed to the next. 
Finally, the train came. But it was at least half an hour too late, leaving in its path a tangled mess of subplots, the torn shreds of a Tolstoy novel and the fragments of a pretty perfume advert.  Contrary to the ideas of the author, Great works of art are only great because they are accessible and comprehensible to everyone”, I found this film confusing, even as a natural English speaker, and can only imagine how Jenny was feeling by the end.  Still, I am determined to read it.  Perhaps I will give myself a few months' distance from this adaptation, but I will read Anna Karenina and this time I won’t rely on a middle-man to intervene between the text and my imagination.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I agree. The trailer did raise my expectations and hopes up quite high. Oh you haven't read the book yet? You should. If you liked the movie then I think you'll enjoy the book more. Well, when I say like, as long as you didn't dislike it.

    As I said, I think you'd enjoy the book more. Although I did enjoy the film, I do admit that after a while, the film was a bit of a disappointment. Once again, I agree. The scenes, however few of them, of the action outside of the theatre was quite unclear. Without previous knowledge from reading the book, I can understand that it could get quite confusing for someone who hasn't yet read the book. It didn't exactly meet my expectations that i had built up from watching the trailer and reading the book.

    I found that Keira Knightley was indeed quite good as Anna, I think it's good for her to take these roles. It suits her well. It's a relief to see her take a break from the Pirates of the Caribbean. Jude Law also played his part quite well as Alexei Karenin.

    I think the movie adaptation, Anna Karenina was not a total success, but it's a bold and creative response to the novel. It was interesting though.

    Anyway, thanks for putting up this review. It was an enjoyable read and I thoroughly agree with it. I look forward to any other reviews you might post in the future.

    Thanks JYC.


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