Saturday, 8 September 2012
Tolstoy's Anna Karenina gets a fresh twist in this new release starring Keira Knightly and Jude Law. Tolstoy found theatre loathsome so it is a brave act by Director Joe Wright to use Tom Stoppard's screenplay to set the story in a disused theatre! I think you either have to treat an epic costume drama in the conventional way, or do something new. I think the new in this case works. But be warned: a novel that runs to nearly 900 pages is never going to produce a short movie!
The story follows the book quite closely but Joe Wright employs plenty of theatre-style scene changes to move the story on whilst it remains on the stage and within the disused theatre. Flats drop and ascend, lighting brings characters into view and then hides them, perspectives change to add to the drama and the full-on lighting delivers eye-popping colour. This is then seamlessly edited together with footage shot outdoors - always on an epic scale with distant horizons to emphasise the vastness of both Russia and this story. The constant use of trains and carriages underlines and emphasises the journeys the characters were on. At times I found the music so intrusive it constantly felt like they were going to break into song!
The story is about relationships, love, fidelity, guilt and the pressure of social expectation. It also highlights very clearly that men can get away things that women in the world of Tolstoy cannot get away with. The story sets Anna at the centre but as well as her own marriage to Alexei, the relationships within the Oblonsky family are also put under scrutiny. The tales of the Karenin's is a mirror opposite of the Oblonsky's. The way in which the two primary suitors go about their tasks - Count Vronsky and Levin are also mirror opposites. It is within the intriguing web of these tangled relationships that the tragedy of Anna Karenina is played out.
The performances are all strong. I particularly liked the restrained and controlled Jude Law as Alexei Karenin and the warm and authentic Kelly MacDonald as Dolly Oblonsky. I found Aaron Taylor-Johnson's Count Vronsky to be immensely annoying - must have been good acting - and the painfully honest and painfully honourable Levin played by Domhnall Gleeson to be frustrating in the extreme - again, good acting. I'm sorry to report that I found Keira Knightly's performance less convincing. Both in terms of time and in terms of character development, her Anna Karenina became more like the character Sabina Spielrein that she played in A Dangerous Method (reviewed here) - hysteria and all! Come on Keira - you need to find some different roles to exercise your undoubted talent!
At 2 hours 10 minutes long, I found this to be just a little too long for comfort. However, the story is on such an epic scale that to make it any shorter might have rendered it meaningless. I appreciate the boldness of the conceptualisation and much of the acting. Whilst worthy, I shall not be rushing to add it to my collection of discs. There are many compelling films on release at the moment - see them before you see this. I'll give it 6.5/10.