Film Review: Anna Karenina

Tolstoy’s controversial novel, Anna Karenina, has been adapted for both film and television many times, so why should all “cough up” to see the latest rendition? 

Well, the most obvious reason would be its stunning cast members (Jude Law and Keira Knightly – phwoar!); another, though, may be curiosity – why is this ‘Anna Karenina’ woman such a controversial figure?

In terms of the cast, we’ve all seen Miss Knightly excel in her roles in other period dramas, such as Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, so surely she’s well suited to the role of ‘Anna’ and Jude Law’s calm demeanor makes him perfect to play her high-society husband, ‘Alexei Kerenin.’


However, Aaron Taylor-Johnson is somewhat of a “wildcard”. When considering an actor to play a member of Russian aristocracy, the gentleman that played superhero ‘Kick Ass”, isn’t the first person that springs to mind… I mean, (slight exaggeration aside) could you imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger reprising the role of Brokeback Mountain’s ‘Ennis del Mar’?

If you’re still undecided about the film, perhaps Paul Webster’s mini-explanation on how they’ve put their stamp on this classic will convince you. He claims that “high society in Russia, during the 19th Century, was rather overzealous and theatrical and it was, as a result of this, that they decided to set the film in a theatre”.

Initially, the ‘stage’ is blindingly obvious and you notice the members of the cast darting about to change scenery, etc; but as the film progresses, you completely forget that it is almost entirely filmed in one location.

In a way, it reminds me of the stage production of ‘Warhorse’; once you get past the fact that the horses don’t (and aren’t supposed to) look realistic and you’ve stopped tittering at the faces being pulled by the cast to create the sound effects, then you get engrossed within the story. The fact that this version of the Russian classic has been filmed as a theatrical production is the very essence of its uniqueness and charm.

The plot itself runs true to the book, in the sense that it remains a tragedy, but the additional focus on Levin’s (Domhnall Gleeson) attempts to woo Kitty (Alicia Vikander) are a rather refreshing touch. Paul Webster himself stated that they didn’t wish the film to just be ‘one big downer’, so they’ve made the primary underlying theme of the film to be about the innumerable ways in which individuals can express love. 

Despite my earlier (minor) concerns, the acting, across the board, in ‘Anna Karenina’ is exceptional.

As expected, Keira Knightly plays every aspect of the role convincingly. She’s able to flit from fun-loving mother, to smitten girl, to incomprehensibly paranoid wreck at the drop of a hat, but in such an authentic manner. Aaron Taylor-Johnson steps up to the mark as the good-looking and charming Count Vronksy (whose hair is supposedly inspired by 80s Glam rock groups), Jude Law conveys Kerenin’s lack of ‘fire’ with conviction and Matthew Macfadyen (Oblonsky) is outrageously hilarious – I find myself spluttering with laughter whenever I think of the metaphors he uses for women!

In the final analysis, Joe Wright’s and Paul Webster’s  ‘Anna Karenina’ is a finely produced and directed, superbly cast and well scripted piece of cinema and, although the tragic conclusion to the story is already widely known, it is thoroughly entrancing watching the story unfold. The film encompasses a well-balanced blend of joy, debauchery and misery and I know I’ll be off to see it again as soon as I can!

Anna Karenina is out in the UK now.