Let me just preface this review by saying that I didn’t expect this adaptation of the film to be super faithful to the novel. No adaptation really is, books are so descriptive and it’s hard to fit in every single detail. If most book to film scripts were faithful, films would be several hours long.
I’m aware of this. Plus, when a film has been adapted as many times as Anna Karenina has (the Joe Wright directed/Tom Stoppard screenplay written adaptation is the thirteenth adaptation of the Leo Tolstoy classic) you’re going to want to up the ante a bit, make your adaptation stand out from the rest. How many times can the story of a society woman’s illicit affair with a military officer that leads to tragedy be told in the same way?
Wright and Stoppard succeed in making their Anna Karenina stand out from the rest–most of the film is set on a stage, making film goers feel as if they’re watching a play rather than a movie. Some reviewers find it confusing, I think it’s meant to be a comment on high society, always having to keep up appearances and behave in certain ways, to put on an act. The cinematography is beautiful, the colors are deep, rich and vibrant. The costuming is gorgeous (my friend Michele and I met up with some of my retail job coworkers afterward and we actually squealed when talking about the jewelry and dresses, that’s how much we loved them.) Stoppard even managed to keep in the second story of Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) which is either barely mentioned or else omitted from other adaptations completely. Part of Anna’s story is one that is still told in real life–a woman cheats on her husband, the husband receives sympathy while the man she cheated with is absolved of all responsibility and is allowed to continue on with his life while the woman gets treated like she is the scum of the earth, which is made worse if she is in the public eye. It kinda made me sad that Anna Karenina takes place in the 19th century, while we’re living in the 21st century and shit like that still goes on today. So what stopped me from completely loving the film?
I have no idea what Wright and Stoppard were thinking when they adapted the screenplay. First of all, Karenin (Jude Law) is supposed to be cold, rigid and kinda mean, you want Anna (Keira Knightley) to leave him. You want her to fall madly in love with Vronksy.(Aaron Taylor-Johnson) Michele and I were rooting for Karenin to win her back as we could not stand Vronsky. You are not supposed to want that to happen. First of all, Taylor-Johnson is way too contemporary looking for the role. He looks like a hipster college student trying on a 19th century Russian military uniform, for one, and for another, you’re supposed to swoon over him the way you do a man, not a teenager in a boyband. Again, you want Anna to leave Karenin for him. I’m wondering if casting Taylor-Johnson was a way to draw in younger women. There’s a scene in which Vronsky is standing in a field amongst some flowers, the color of his hair enhanced, the sky a beautiful bluish-gray, moving when Anna calls his name. If his face had sparkled, you could have easily had a scene from the Twilight franchise. Keira Knightley, while a fine actress, was not a convincing enough Anna for my liking. First of all, she was way too thin for the part. Second, the whole time I looked at her on screen, all I could think was “huh, she’s kinda the British, 21st century Winona Ryder.” You’re supposed to think of her as conflicted woman, a woman in love, in lust, who feels guilt yet doesn’t feel guilt about hurting her husband, not the star of Heathers and Reality Bites.
The other thing that kept me from completely loving Anna Karenina was that it had way too much British influence for an adaptation of a staple of Russian literature. The director, the screenwriter, and three leads were all British. Pryme kept pointing out actors who had appeared on Downton Abbey. I don’t like this idea that many studios seem to have that film going audiences are so culturally ignorant that “wealthy” has to mean “British” in every adaptation from literature. The British writing style and Russian writing style are very different, and it would have been nice to see more of the Russian/French influence rather than spending the film feeling like I was watching an extended BBC presentation of Anna Karenina. The only good thing about the British influence for me is that we didn’t have to suffer through the actors trying to attempt to sound French or Russian. Accents can be tricky–without the right person in the role, they can often sound cartoonish and thus take away from the film.
So what’s my final take? I didn’t completely hate it. It is beautiful to watch. Pay more attention to Levin’s plot (which is slightly modified from the novel, but still a great story on it’s own) than Anna/Vronsky/Karenin’s plot, and I think you’ll be fine. What about you, LivLunatics? Have you seen Anna Karenina? Have you read the novel?