Filmic Marmite

This is my review of Anna Karenina [DVD].

Since it is impossible to do justice in a two hour film to such a celebrated classic, with its focus on inner thoughts, it is probably a good decision to try a different take, in this case the ploy of setting most of the scenes in a theatre, not just on the stage but in the wings, the walk-ways above the podium, the stalls and so on.

So, the audience is watching a film of a play of a book. This has the benefit of conveying a sense of the restrictions and conventions which may have driven Anna to "break out" and give expression to her love for Vronsky, but which also made it impossible for her to be accepted by society afterwards. On the other hand, the theatrical confines may make some scenes seem too stylised, artificial and therefore less moving e.g. the whispered gossip and disapproval of Anna's affair. I was also often unconvinced by the frequent technique of freezing minor characters into the pose of statues, to highlight say, the image of Anna and Vronsky falling in love as they dance together in a world of their own.

I was glad not to need subtitles, since many scenes are quite visually complex, requiring close attention to pick up all the fleeting impressions used to convey a good deal. Tom Stoppard's script is very effective, clear and unpretentious. I could hear every word, which is often not the case. There are some striking scenes such as a horse race in the theatre in which an audience becomes a crowd of real people, only to be replaced by characters painted on a stage backdrop.

All the actors perform well. Jude Law is at last acting the wronged husband rather than the lover, and paints a sympathetic portrait of the industrious, upright bureaucrat, who tries to suppress his emotions and follow the rules, gives way to understandable hatred and vengeance, but who shows a good deal of decency and compassion in the end.

I have heard some criticism of the casting of Vronsky, but was surprised to find that it worked with Aaron Taylor-Johnson convincing as a striking young man with whom Anna might become infatuated physically.

Anna's predicament did not move me as it should have done, apart from her grief over being separated from her son. It must be a weakness in the film that I ended up feeling more sympathetic towards Karenin and even Vronsky than I did for Anna who often seems spoilt, capricious and ultimately deranged. I agree that a sense of injustice over the harsher treatment meted out to her as a "fallen woman" is enough to drive anyone off the rails. Beautifully dressed to the bitter end, she contrasts with the youthful Kitty, who settles for a life of rural bliss with Levin, the aristocratic landowner who chooses to work alongside the freed serfs and shelter his sick revolutionary brother – i.e. lead a practical life with some real worth.

Although I sympathise with those who may find the director Joe Wright's approach too contrived, this film held my interest, and gives scope for a good deal of discussion.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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