Anna Karenina Review – I’m being nice and balanced here but wish I didn’t have to be!

10 Sep

 

 

The Plot:

Set in late-19th-century Russia high-society, the aristocrat Anna Karenina enters into a life-changing affair with the affluent Count Vronsky.

The Good:

With any Joe Wright production you’ll see a lavish array of costumes and set design, and Anna Karenina is no exception. This time Wright’s world is almost entirely set on an old theatre stage and the intricate transitions from one scene to another are seamlessly done.

This is a big budget production, using clever means to depict a familiar story while taking a bold step away from past adaptations of Leo Tolstoy’s book. This re-telling can definitely walk away confident that it will almost certainly gather Oscar nods for costume, set, sound and potentially cinematography.

In terms of casting, Jude Law is sublime as Alexei Karenin, (Anna’s passive and tolerant husband) and by doing next to nothing, his presence on screen is scene stealing and captivating to watch. Aaron Johnson (despite his mustache) is a convincing Count Vronsky, a young virile officer who is tempted by the allure of married Anna.

As light relief, Matthew McFadden who previously played the brooding Mr Darcy, successfully don’s a jovial moustache as Anna’s lothario brother Oblonsky. Additionally newcomer Alicia Vikander deserves a notable mention for her innocent and gentile portrayal as Kitty.

The Bad:

Sadly there are a few flaws in Joe Wright’s beautiful effort. First and foremost the film is 130minutes long, which may stretch the patience of audiences, especially those that might not appreciate the film’s new take on period drama.

Though some of the film’s elaborate set-changing choreography works very well, particularly during the early portions of the film, as the story progresses it’s harder to sustain. Once the initial novelty of twirling scenery and people wears off, it may prove a distraction, especially for those eager to dismiss such an approach as heavy handed or pretentious.

However good the cast are, all the glamorous visuals can leave little room at times for them to fully develop their characters. The film’s central narrative is laid out in such clear parts that it can feel almost episodic at times, with gradual emotions making way for lavish production value.

Keira Knightley in the title role of Anna is at least breathtaking to look at as she takes on one of the most complex female characters in literature. However, even the former First Lady of the silver screen Gretta Garbo had trouble tackling the part in 1935. Sadly critics will once again claim that Keira’s performance is perhaps overly reliant on gasps and corsets.

Keira was Oscar nominated for Pride & Prejudice but it’s unlikely she’ll find similar accolades for Anna Karenina. The set and costume departments steal her thunder this time. Fans may also find her chemistry with Aaron Johnson, less passionately convincing than the intensity she found with James McAvoy in Atonement.

The Ugly Truth:

If you’re after a visual feast of beautiful costumes, make up and set design you will definitely not be disappointed. The high concept theatricality of Joe Wright’s production and Keira Knightley’s trademark performance may not entirely charm or convince everyone though.

 

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