Sumptuous costuming won this latest adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel an Oscar. Some will cry “style over substance” since there’s some creative use of set, but the film still excels in performance. What might not be so apparent to current audiences are the social ramifications of Anna’s choice.
1874 Russia: In Moscow, Stiva (Matthew Macfadyen) is in trouble with his wife Dolly (Kelly MacDonald) for using their nanny for services other than watching the children.
In the capital of St. Petersburg his sister Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) is married to statesman Alexi (Jude Law) but she journeys to Moscow to try and convince Dolly not to divorce Stiva. Stiva meets his friends Konstantin (Domhnall Gleeson), who has traveled from the country, to ask his advice on his love of Kitty (Alicia Vikander). Stiva says that Konstantin should propose to her.
On the train Anna meets the scandalous Countess Vronskaya (Olivia Williams) who is traveling to Petersburg to meet her son Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who is also courting Kitty. However, when Vronsky and Anna catch sight of one another the sparks fly. Vronsky begins to pursue her and Anna forgoes the rigors of society to fulfill her passion, yet she will also be consumed in those very flames that she stokes.
Anna Karenina was written by Leo Tolstoy in 1877, but it’s ostensibly about love in all its forms. Anna and Alexi share a chilly societal marriage, but her passions only flare with an affair with Vronsky. Alexi only seems to have a love of country (Law’s subtle performance reveals something more than that though).
Konstantin has a purer love for Kitty, though she nearly commits to a societal marriage with Vronsky. Anna also has a love for her child, but it’s her affair that causes all to crumble. Society in the 1800s didn’t exactly look upon affairs kindly.
They happened and were tolerated as long as they were not found out. Anna’s is public and she’s made a pariah. Not unlike Countess Vronskaya, who ironically doesn’t react the way you might think she should. I’m not sure that today’s audiences will get the reason of Anna’s tortured life having to do with her societal rejection.
Most would today would just shrug it off and start shopping a reality show about their affairs. I also found the design interesting, though some complained about it. They decided to try something new and made the film seem like a staged show, although with Les Mis commercials abounding, I expected Anna to break into song at any time, with revolving sets and rarely venturing outside.
I got used to it and admired the creativity. The performances, all with English accents ala Nicholas and Alexandria, are compelling and top notch. The costumes are wonderful and now award winning.
Anna Karenina is presented in a 1080p transfer (2.40:1). Special features include a commentary by director Joe Wright, 13 minutes of deleted scenes, the 5 minute “Adapting Tolstoy” about bringing the book to the screen, the 5 minute “On the Set with Joe Wright,” the 5 minute “An Epic Story about Love” with cast and crew discussing the theme, the 4 minute “Keira as Anna” about the character, the 3 minute “Dressing Anna” with (now) Oscar winning designer Jacqueline Durran talking costuming, and the 8 minute “Time Lapse Photography” showing the set being built. You also get a DVD and digital copy.
I appreciated that Joe Wright and company took an oft filmed story and tried to take some of the dust off with wonderful costuming and a different set design.
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