I have been waiting for Anna Karenina to show at the cinema for months now. Since studying Russian history while at the lycée I have been obsessed with Russian culture (I was even set to take my place at Paris Soborne to study Russian for a degree). Anna Karenina is one of those classic novels to come out Russia, with credit going to one of Russia’s literary legends Leo Tolstoy. Published in 1878 during Imperial Russia, the novel bares a resemblance to Tolstoy’s life. He was born into nobility, involved in scandals and constantly questioned love. These were the main themes carried through from the book to the screenplay written by Tom Stoppard.
Joe Wright, who also directed Atonement as well as Pride and Prejudice, chose a lead cast of Keira Knightley who plays Anna, Jude Law who play’s Anna’s husband, Alexei and Aaron Taylor-Johnson who plays Anna’s lover, Vronsky. The story is set in 19th century Imperial Russia and follows the story of Anna Karenina. Married with a son whom she adores, Anna’s husband is a minister of the Russian government, most of his time is taken up with his work and he finds it difficult to show any kind of emotion towards his wife and son. Anna seems to be content with her circumstances until she meets Vronsky. Anna is prepared to give up everything for Vronsky, an unmarried, rich officer, who she falls madly in love with. The film follows the relationships of many other couples throughout the film; all of whom show the different sides to love and marriage. This I believe is the main backbone of the film. Yes it talks about restrictions of society, but this theme is not profound enough to base a story on. Tolstoy’s novel was about love; the contradictions of love, the battle with lust and the search for pure happiness with another being.
When looking back on the film, I am surprised to say the character that I grew to love was not Anna, but her husband Alexei. Anna shows both her selfish, destructive side as well as her loving and passionate characteristics, all of which we can relate to when it comes to love. But I don’t feel like her character grows at all throughout the film. She discovers true passionate love but it is the destruction of her not the making. At first you see Jude Law’s character Alexei as a mean, emotionless man who possesses his wife; but you come to realise that he is one of the purest most loyal characters in the whole story. His inability to show his emotions is not something to attack but something to understand. When the affair between his wife and her lover comes to the breaking point of his family and marriage he show’s forgiveness and pity. Jude Law evaluates his character beautifully; “you see slowly and gradually how his vulnerability awakens; he takes his eyes off his work, which is so much a defining part of him, and the human being comes out to fight for his wife and family. By the end, he’s travelled quite an interesting journey.”
So one last final word on the film, the setting. Amazingly most of the film takes place in a theatre, the theatre is adapted with stage props and sets for each scene. When I heard about this I wasn’t too sure how it would be pulled off, but now having seen the film I can say with beautiful ease. Many philosophers talk about how life is a stage performance and we are each the principal lead in our own drama. You have that feel with Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina. The most beautiful part of the film for me, visually, is the very last scene. Where the stage is a meadow and the meadow continues down onto the main audience floor, making the characters on the stage look as though they were an impressionist’s tableau.
Anna Karenina is still showing so if you haven’t already been to see it you really must.