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.
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).
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