Whenever a classic, particularly a lengthy, great classic from the 19th century, is adapted to the big screen, it takes courage, intelligence, and determination to make the production possible. And even with the best producers, screenwriters, and actors, the production of a classic novel is not guaranteed success. Taking on a classic is a daring move and a great risk. In order to make a film adaptation even viable, one has to approach it with unprecedented creativity, intellect, and energy.
Joe Wright’s adaptation of Anna Karenina is bursting with creativity, intellect, and energy. It meets the requisite of entertaining but is not without its flaws.
One has to give Joe Wright, the director, and Tom Stoppard, the screenwriter, credit for having the daring to embrace the project of adapting a novel that ranks second only to Romeo and Juliet as the most famous love tragedy in world literature. With the adulterous tale of aristocratic Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley), the once dutiful and obedient wife of stern Count Alexi Karenin (Jude Law), and the beguiling cavalry officer Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Wright and Stoppard have their hands full.
As if they didn’t have enough on their plate, Mr. Wright and Mr. Stoppard took a creative, out-of-the-box approach to portraying this complex piece of literature. They decided to locate Anna along with the viewer inside a theatrical environment. The plot takes place in a once elegant, now vastly deteriorated imperial Russian theatre. Surprisingly, the action doesn’t entirely take place on centre stage. The characters along with the viewer are taken onstage, backstage, and in the wings of the theatre. The result is a melodramatic, theatrical, and extravagant film.
The behind-the-scenes glimpses including the scene changes (on which the curtains don’t fall), and the stage workers moving props in-and-out become tiresome and begin to take away from the actual storyline. Though the metaphorical presence of the theatre fits the theme of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, with the pervasiveness of theatrical, pretentious social standards in the novel, it seems overdone and adds a light-hearted, whimsical tone to an otherwise serious storyline. A purist might cringe at all the surreal colours, the multiple shots of the theatre and the stage workers and the presence of very obvious fake props.
Though some of the props such as a toy train to represent an actual one take away from the reality of the love story, the costumes are astounding and send the viewer back to Imperial Russia.
The costumes are a fashionista’s treasure trove. One of Anna’s first costumes a black netted-veil embroidered with a whimsical flower design looks as if it was a carefully handcrafted vintage piece from the 1800’s. The outfits exude an air of luxury, decadence, and ostentation. Fur coats, diamonds, and silk gloves are in abundance. Dresses of chiffon, silk, velvet, and laces overwhelmed by ruffles, jewels, and tulle decorate the over-the-top ballroom scenes. These real-life Disney-like ball gowns accentuate the Marie Antoinette furniture, the gilded-gold walls, and the sparkling chandeliers. The designs mirror the sublime colours of the setting with furs in a symphony of colours including blood red, burgundy, seagreen, and black. Though the flowered-embellished hats and headpieces seem like something Kate Middleton would wear today, they are nevertheless something to marvel at. These accessories are adorned with beaded feathers in rich colours, glittering diamonds, blooming flowers, and intricate netting. The men in the movie have their share of luxurious, stylish pieces too. The men’s military jackets may be more elegant and embellished than some of the women’s boldly coloured taffeta dresses. These jackets are the essence of wealth and are embroidered with gold.
While the 2012 film version of Anna Karenina may seem annoyingly theatrical at times, it is still entertaining and definitely worth watching.