Film: Anna Karenina (2012)
Cast includes: Keira Knightley (A Dangerous Method), Aaron Tylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy), Kelly Macdonald (Gosford Park), Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), Matthew Macfadyen (Frost/Nixon), Emily Watson (War Horse), Olivia Williams (An Education), Domhnall Gleeson (True Grit), Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair)
Screenplay: Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love, Empire of the Sun)
Director: Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna)
Genre: Drama from novel by Leo Tolstoy (130 minutes)
The orchestra’s ready. The curtain rises. It’s Imperial Russia, 1874. Prince Stepan’s tryst with the nanny sends his pregnant wife, Dolly, into a tailspin. Change of scene… When Stepan’s sister Anna Karenina gets the letter, she knows she must go and convince Dolly to forgive Stepan. “Sin has a price. You may be sure of that,” notes Anna’s husband, Count Alexei. (But we all know boys will be boys… even then.) On the train from St. Petersburg to Moscow Anna shares the compartment with Countess Vronskaya, a woman with a “reputation.” Anna says she’s sad to leave her young son. Countess Vronskaya says she’s happy to be seeing her son again, Cavalry Officer Vronsky. On the topic of the Countess’s reputation, she tells Anna, “I’d always prefer wishing I hadn’t, instead of wishing I had.” Anna’s never thought of it that way.
Stepan is surprised to see his old friend Konstantin again. Konstantin, a farm owner, comes back to Moscow as rarely as possible. But he has a mission… asking Kitty to marry him. He’s not sure she’ll accept… “She’s of the heavens. I’m of the earth.” Stepan suggests he get a new hat! Also, Stepan confides his frustration... “You marry for love. There’s the home, the children… your wife grows old… and you’re still young and vital…” (Odd… he’d be talking with Konstantin this way on the eve of his proposal to Kitty.) Anyway, Konstantin flubs the proposal… “Sorry. Wrong moment. Sorry.” But it’s more than just that. “I can’t,” Kitty says. And we soon find out Kitty’s quite taken with the rakish Officer Vronsky. Konstantin’s brother has little sympathy… “Romantic love will be the last delusion of the old order.” Indeed, things are changing in Russia. Yet, some things stay the same.
When Anna’s train arrives, Vronsky’s there to meet his mother… and at the same time, he meets Anna. The look they exchange is fleeting, but the spark is unmistakable. Talking with Dolly later, Anna somehow manages to find the right appeal… “Do you have enough love left in your heart to forgive him?” On a happier note, Dolly’s sister Kitty is hoping Vronsky will propose tonight at the ball. “Anna, you must come.” When Vronsky finally catches up with Anna at the ball, he insists on a dance. Anna tries to refuse. “If you won’t dance with me I’m going to get out of this operetta and go home.” “Then… for Kitty’s sake...” she says.
By the end of the evening, both Moscow and St. Petersburg are on fire with scandal. Anna’s reputation is in ashes, yet it’s only the first spark. Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel is just beginning at this point. Divided into 8 parts, this is where Part 1 leaves off. It’s going to be a monumental task to tell this story in a single 2-hour movie. So you may well be wondering if they’ll be able to pull it off without making it feel like a poorly edited, over stuffed soap opera. Indeed they do! The entire film feels like a lively fusion of stage play, operetta and grand epic movie. Not only is the concept brilliant; every detail is exquisitely handled. The story moves along at near breakneck speed with transitions that are delightfully clever and original. But that said, if you haven’t read the novel, you may also wonder if it’s going to be way too confusing. While many elements are greatly compressed, the filmmakers have done a terrific job of making sure we can stay engaged with what’s there.
Every scene is exquisite. Every actor is wonderful. The score is excellent. This Anna Karenina is a near perfect combination of storytelling, stagecraft, artistry and technology. It addresses many themes that are still relevant today. But at the twilight of an empire, the intensity is magnified. “Anna isn’t a criminal, but she’s broken the rules.” There’s no forgiveness for that.
4 popped kernels
Opulent, creative and engaging telling of Leo Tolstoy’s classic… with great appeal whether you’ve read the novel or not
Rated: R (Sexual content)
Audience: Young adults & Grown-ups
Distribution: Mainstream wide release
Tempo: Zips right along
Visual Style: Computer effects
Character Development: Engaging
Social Significance: Pure entertainment & Thought provoking