Joe Wright, director of “Pride and Prejudice,” acquired the daunting task of recreating one of the greatest novels of all time, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I say daunting, because imagine taking an 800-page Russian classic and transforming it into film. The tale is one of the greatest, most tragic love stories of all time, and Wright succeeded in translating it into a cinematic masterpiece. While the movie cannot achieve the depth of the book, making characterization peripheral to the visual feast that is the film, the story stays true to its original, and the movie is elegant, dramatic and stunningly beautiful.
The film begins by setting Imperial Russia as a stage; the elite are the actors, while the poor work backstage. Keira Knightley plays the passionate heroine Anna Karenina, a Russian socialite who makes a train wreck of her life by having an affair with a handsome, younger cavalry officer, Alexey Vronsky, played by Aaron Johnson. Jude Law plays her husband, a respected, yet dull diplomat, Alexey Karenin, who esteems propriety above love, and only notices her affair when he hears the whispers of Russia’s high society.
Anna and Vronsky’s tragic love affair parallels the story of Kostya Levin, played by Harry Potter’s Domhnall Gleeson, and the aim of his affection, Kitty Shcherbatsky (Alicia Vikander). Levin proposes to Kitty, yet she believes the charming Vronsky will propose to her, and consequently she rejects his offer. So while Kitty wears pink and pearls to the ball to impress her crush, Vronsky falls instantly in love with Anna, who stuns everyone by wearing a black silk gown. The more Anna and Vronsky dance, the more they fall in love, the more hopeless Kitty feels, and the more intrigued Imperial Russia becomes. So sets the stage for the greatest, most tragic love story of all time.
Tolstoy’s classic is one of my favorite books, so I am happy to say I was not disappointed by Wright’s film. The movie is overwhelmingly beautiful. Curtain after curtain rises and each time the scene looks like a whimsical, moving painted picture; and the actors waltz every scene, making the film resemble a ballet. It is indulgent, maybe too indulgent, like rich chocolate mousse. While it is decadent and delicious, it is also fluffy and unfulfilling. Every actor is believable and passionate, but without Tolstoy’s interior narration, it is difficult to provide the characterization that makes the book a classic. That being said, “Anna Karenina” is definitely worth seeing for anyone who loves the book, period dramas or the star-studded cast.
Watch the trailer here. Grade: A-