Anna Karenina, one of the most highly anticipated films of the season and one of the greatest tales of love and loss ever written. This on screen adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic should have been spectacular. Unfortunately, not even the impeccable casting could save this film. The new spin on this timeless epic, written by Tom Stoppard, failed to stir in me the emotional response I’m sure it intended. What is well known as a tragic love story that stays with the reader or audience well after being told, frankly left me feeling relieved once the credits started rolling.
The love affair portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Keira Knightley was in my opinion, not believable. Their relationship was by no means explored enough, instead being shown through a series of highly dramatised gestures and sighs. It was as if the director expected the audience to already know the story inside out and thought it appropriate therefore, to skim over the important details and instead offer us visually pleasing images of Knightley and Taylor-Johnson embracing one another in a series of fragmented close ups. In addition to this, the acting came across as somewhat try-hard and more like something you would see in the theatre. This however, may have been what director Joe Wright was trying to achieve since the idea of being on stage was used to frame the film.
The entirety of the screen play is set in a 19th century theatre, with the backdrops and sets moving as the scenes change. The actors are literally performing the story of Anna Karenina before us as if on stage. I found this style to be a little too contrived and the overly artistic way of shooting seemed to detract from the actual story. What initially came across as an original and interesting technique eventually became grating. Moments in the film that should have been intensely emotional and dramatic just seemed laughable due to the unusual way in which they were filmed. I understand that the writer was trying to convey how Anna’s life was a spectacle, and every move that she made was scrutinised as if she were a character on stage; but I felt that this message could have been easily communicated without the extensive use of theatrics. It was certainly a new interpretation of the novel and definitely a bold move for Stoppard and Wright to make, but I think they were somewhat unsuccessful in conveying the true tragedy of Anna Karenina’s life. The modern way of telling the story almost debased what is ultimately known as a classic.
The best performance in the film was delivered by Jude Law as Anna’s cuckolded husband, Alexei. He was the only character in the film that I actually sympathised with. As an audience we are meant to feel for Anna, but I couldn’t help feeling annoyance towards her rather than empathy. She quickly falls head over heels for Count Vronsky and in doing so is the catalyst for her own downfall. As the story progresses we see Anna’s decline into madness and her suspicions regarding Count Vronsky’s fidelity. This however, seemed to come all too late and the crucial final moments of the story seemed rushed.
Visually the film is stunning, the sumptuous and decadent costumes were the only consolation for this production. Knightley is as effortlessly chic as ever and Taylor-Johnson is handsome and charismatic as Count Vronsky. The chemistry between them however, just wasn’t there for me.
Overall the movie didn’t do Tolstoy’s classic justice. I had high expectations for this film and they were most definitely not met.