Movie Review: Anna Karenina

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So I finally saw this movie. I’ve been waiting for it. I like novel adaptations, but I also like to read them before seeing them, which is why I didn’t see the latest Wuthering Heights. With this, I went to the trouble of the book – rather excellent, by the way – and so went to see the film right when it came out.

The word that kept repeating itself in my head throughout the movie was, “Ridiculous.”

Joe Wright is a decent director, I suppose, but I would keep him away from the great classics of literature, particularly if he insists casting Keira Knightley. Atonement was a good film, I even liked it better than the book and Knightley was good, but nope, she’s just not what a period drama needs. Someone will accuse me of being shallow now, but Knightley is hardly what an ideal woman in the 19th century looked like. And those mid-1800s dresses do require breasts to look their best. I’m sorry if I sound harsh, I don’t like to be, but that really bothers me.

But back to the film itself. It’s in the line of recent movies that lack deep feeling: the new Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and The Duchess (for the most part but not as bad as the other two) are brought to mind. Maybe it’s the filmmakers themselves to prefer it, or maybe it’s what they expect the audience to enjoy, I don’t know. Personally, I would like to see more soul-wrenching emotion. (You know the 2006 mini series of Jane Eyre? Watch Ruth Wilson deliver Jane’s response to the proposal. I’m always impressed by it.) A story like Anna Karenina gives the actors the chance to portray intense emotion, and I didn’t see it here.

The movie is much dominated – more heavily at the beginning – by a theatre motif. Things happen as if in a stage set, which took me by surprise and, quite frankly, almost put me off the whole film. I’ve tried to piece together a reason for this strong motif, but as of yet have very little that would be backed up by textual evidence. Another recurring thing was the moving train and its wheels, which keeps appearing from time to time, as if it were chasing Anna. The ball scene would also be an interesting one to analyze, although I was much distracted by the weird waltz that was the first trigger for “ridiculous”.  I will probably end up buying the DVD and watching the movie again, just to be able to analyze it and rid myself of this annoying feeling of not understanding the theatre motif. If someone has seen the film and has thoughts, please share! I’m open to theories!

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a complete disaster. The theatre business is rather pleasant particularly at the beginning, where the tone is still light and airy. There are great roles played: I don’t usually care much for Matthew Mcfadyen, but his Stiva was excellent. Ruth Wilson, Michelle Dockery, and Shirley Henderson were charming in their own parts and I took great delight in seeing them. I must also applaud Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander for their roles as Levin and Kitty, because they actually had me in tears. This leaves me, more or less, with the leading males, Jude Law and Aaron Taylor-Johnsson, who both did sound work. Jude Law’s Karenin was the only character I would have liked to show a little less emotion, though.

Alicia Vikander and Domhnall Gleeson as Kitty and Levin – my favourite couple!

The film also gets points for including two scenes I particularly enjoyed in the book: Levin making hay with the peasants (much less impressive in the film but included nonetheless), the horse race (obscurely situated in a theatre, perhaps because Anna’s behaviour there is under inquisitive eyes – I really must look into this thing), and Levin seeing Kitty again after a long separation (again, much better in the book but very beautiful in the film).

The ladies are judging you!

Although I didn’t enjoy myself as much as I would have liked to, this was an interesting cinema experience. If you’re going to go see it, don’t expect your usual period costume drama. It’s simply not constructed that way. Try to enjoy the strangeness of it – but I do recommend the book much more than I’d recommend the film.

Anna Karenina (2012)

Diretor: Joe Wright

Starring: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnsson, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Kelly Macdonald

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Movie Review: Anna Karenina

  1. No, not shallow, I agree that Keira is wrongly cast here or at least I think so. Shame this didn’t live up – think I will stick with the book thanks.
    Lynn 😀

  2. I didn’t think her right for Lizzie Bennet, either, or the Duchess of Devonshire. It’s like there weren’t any other good looking British actresses…
    It *could* be that the movie just needs some getting used to – I watch a lot of costume drama and expect certain things when I go see one. I didn’t read any reviews beforehand, and although a friend said the theatre was strongly there I was still surprised. Trailer doesn’t really bring it out, it looks more like the usual period drama.

    • No, definitely no good as Lizzie Bennett. I don’t think I even watched this film for a long time in protest at the casting. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Keira Knightly, but not in that role. The actress, whose name escapes me, in the BBC Pride and Prejudice was excellent.
      Lynn 😀

      • I protested it for years, too! 😀 I actually think it was last year or 2011 that I finally gave in and watched it. It was entertaining but so full of period mistakes… *shudder* Should probably review that sometime. Keira Knightley can do well, like in Pirates or Atonement, but, I agree, not in these big things. Jennifer Ehle is the name you’re looking for – my Lizzie forever! ❤ She's just right. Much like Colin Firth is the number one Mr Darcy, none of this Macfadyen business there, thank you very much!

  3. Beautiful-looking movie, but nothing really there for the story or acting. It’s just dull and that’s a shame, too. Great review.

    • Agreed about the dullness, particularly towards the end. I kept waiting for the train. Less close-ups of crying/staring Anna and more passion into the fighting and madness, please! It was visually very nice though, at least about halfway through. The book is still so much better – as if that is a surprise.
      Thank you for commenting! I’m glad you liked it! I have a tendency to rant, and period drama is something I feel strongly about, so…

  4. Keira Knightley was absolutely brilliant in Atonement, but then that’s set in upper-class 1910s England and her acting style suits ‘repressed aristo’ down to the ground. I didn’t enjoy Anna Karenina much either, mostly because it’s got such a miserable plot, although that memorably poor scene with Anna leaping on her lover after several minutes of absolute lack of any sort of sexual tension at all will stick in my mind for a long time to come.

    Perhaps the theatre motif is about Anna’s continual self-delusions about her life, and at the same time the goldfish-bowl effect of high society? You might well characterise her as someone whose downfall is that she believes her own PR…

  5. Keira’s looks are also better for the 20th century, not really the 19th (or the 18th, really). My main problem with the film is really the lack of emotion – although a friend of mine said she thought it very emotional. To me it was more like things just happen and people say things but no one really reacts or expresses anything.
    Plot-wise, I find the book perfectly fine, but the movie didn’t do it justice at all, particularly when it comes to Anna and Vronsky. The Kitty/Levin plot was better executed, although still lacking in the emotional department. I will so end up buying the DVD and re-watching this a few times, just to figure it out…

    It could be, and that’s certainly a plausible explanation. I’ve got a couple of newspaper reviews of the movie, and in the first one the writer says it’s a way to create distance between the audience and the story, because the story is so old and removed from the modern world that it might as well not be real. The other reviewer, on the other hand, was of the opinion that the theatre brings it closer to the audience. I still don’t have an interpretation of that, but I agree more with you than either of the reviewers.

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