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Anna Karenina Review: A Visual Extravaganza

Kieran’s Rating: 8.5/10
Fused Rating: 7.5/10
(2 reviews total)

Joe Wright has made a reputation for himself as one of the best costume drama directors around, making Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. With his latest movie, an adaptation of Anna Karenina, he sets out to give us one of the most ambitious and surreal costume dramas in a long time, breaking the conventions of the genre with its unusual setting and visual approach.

Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) is a Russian aristocrat in the 1870s. She is married to Alexi Karenin (Jude Law), a quietly spoken senior government official seen as a saint in all of Russia. Yet Anna is ready to sacrifice her position, status and her son when she embarks on affair with a young and up-and-coming cavalry officer, Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), causing a scandal that engulfs the Russian aristocracy.


The most obvious comparison that can be made for Anna Karenina is to Laurence Olivier’s 1944 version of Henry V. Both movies start in a theater setting, slowly entering into a more real-world setting and again bookended by the theater setting. While Henry V was told as if to an audience watching a play, Anna Karenina is literally set in a theater.

Early on in the movie, Wright uses the theater setting to great effect, allowing for a quick pace at the beginning and cutting time as the film scenery moves around the characters. Wright embraces the theatrical nature of this adaptation, using theatrical devices to emphasise dramatic moments and allowing us to know the thoughts of characters without the need for voiceovers.

Visually, one of the most glorious moments in Anna Karenina is a five-minute dance sequence between Anna and Vronsky as the camera tracks them and everyone around them is either still or moving slowly. It highlights the sexual tension between the two and the humiliation Princess Kitty (Alicia Vikander) suffered as a result. This sequence serves as a master class of filmmaking because not a single word of dialogue was used or needed.

As the movie turns into a more traditional costume drama, however, it slows and drags. This slower pace, really taking its time to get to the major story elements, makes Anna Karenina feel like it is longer than it really is (never an endearing quality of a motion picture). It needed tighter editing just to trim some of the fat in the middle of the film.


Those who enjoy costume drama and historical pieces are in for a treat; there are plenty of themes of love and sacrifice as Anna and Vronsky are prepared to lose their status and opportunities and become pariahs with their social class. The other major theme was an examination of the hypocrisy of this society, that if a man has an affair it is acceptable, but for a woman would be social suicide. A woman would even loose face if they leave their husband who is having an affair. Despite Anna Karenina being based on a famous novel many elements of Anna’s relationships played very similarly to another Knightley costume drama, The Duchess.

All will find Anna Karenina to be an ambitious experiment and unconventional costume drama, a striking movie with moments that offer great examples of what a filmmaker can achieve visually. It is a fantastic blend of film and theater and shows how theatrical techniques can be incoprorated into film. Wright is a very talented director with a fantastic eye and gets great performances out of his actors. Anna Karenina is tragic, but rewarding movie for its ambition. Rating: 8.5/10

Ethan thought:Joe Wright’s visually sumptuous adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic novel is a fresh attempt to reanimate a story that has grown stale from dozens of dutiful, lifeless versions. The pageantry and scrutiny of 19th Century imperial Russia are recreated here in a stylized, theatrical form that is imaginative and effective. Unfortunately, in trying to condense the massive book into a two-hour film, writer Tom Stoppard loses much of the nuance in Tolstoy’s characterization. One of literature’s most enigmatic heroines, Anna herself is here depicted as an unexceptional society woman who descends into hysteria thanks to a passionate affair with a young dandy of a cavalry officer. Anna and her lover Vronsky (played without much revelation by Keira Knightley and Aaron Johnson) are both too broad to be sympathetic, while the more intriguing side-plot between Anna’s sister-in-law Kitty and her admirer Levin is too truncated to resonate. Wright’s creative production design conceits are wasted by a half-baked narrative.Rating: 6.5/10

Rating
7.5

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