Film Adaptations,  Random

Anna Karenina (2012)

Anna Karenina (2012) is the latest film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s homonymous novel. The 2012 version was directed by Joe Wright who had previously adapted Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice back in 2005. In both adaptations, English actress Keira Knightley plays the main role.


When I saw the trailer for Anna Karenina in September 2012, I know I had to watch the movie as soon as it came out and since it got a March release date in Spain, I decided to read the book first. Now, I struggle quite a lot with the novel and sadly did not manage to watch the movie when it opened so when I finished the book last week, I couldn’t wait to watch the movie, at home. I’ve decided to clearly structure my review in three parts because I found myself reviewing them like this when I turned the TV off and have since then thought even more about these aspects:

The cast

Key question: Did Keira Knightley do a good job? I think she did fairly well, but still I didn’t like her performance. It was a correct, almost flawless performance, but not a good one, not a remarkable one. There was nothing either bad or good you could say about it. Having said that, I’m not Knightley’s biggest fan and as I heard an English actress say once “she’s everywhere, so it’s tiring for the audience”. I think her gestures are pretty modern in that she is not composed and elegant as a 19th century lady would have been. I think Ruth Wilson as Princess Betsy did a greater job even though she is not supposed to be elegant.

Domhnall Gleeson did a good job as Levin although I was really glad Levin’s protagonism in the novel was not translated to the screen. I didn’t like him either as I didn’t like the character in the novel. But all this probably comes in comparison to the great portrayal Alicia Vikander did of Kitty. She was amazing! So, in their scenes together, all you could see was Kitty and Levin just seemed an object you didn’t pay much attention to.


Even though I really like Boardwalk Empire, I didn’t recognize Mary McDonald as Dolly. So, great job!

The Scenery

This is what I really liked about the movie and the reason why I decided to watch it: almost everything takes place on a stage. There are walls moving so that a character walks a few feet and they go from one scenery to another one and you can actually see the walls moving! I thought it was a very original technique and it very much represented an idea and a theme not directly addressed in the novel: society is a stage where we play a role. Culture, history, gender, sex, religion, class and many other features dictate how we act even nowadays, but it was much more strict in the 19th century.

It was also very interesting to see how this scenery affected the performances and defined the characters: Anna and Vronsky first dance together on this stage, but once their affair starts, they are shot in the middle of a forest, surrounded by clean air, sunshine and dressed down in white clothes. This created a huge contrast with the poorly illuminated and slightly dirty setting of the stage. I also found it very interesting that I can’t remember Kitty out of the stage meaning that she was the one who followed the rules and behaved as everyone expected while Anna managed to escape her social constrictions. Director Joe Wright said:

The choice to shoot it in a theater was about this idea that they were living their lives as if upon a stage. What I found interesting about Russian society at the time was the kind of identity crisis that they were going through socially, and also Anna seems to be going through an identity crisis. The role that she has adopted no longer suits her; she has this violent passion that needs to break out.

Costume Design and Jewelry

This is my Achilles heel. I love clothes and jewelry. I can stare at a picture of a beautiful dress for days and I’ve decided to stop visiting the Cartier website for my own good. So, when I watched Anna Karenina I was in awe. How beautiful the dresses! How stunning the jewelry! I specially adored Anna’s ensemble when she first dances with Vronsky: she is the only woman in the room with a black dress yet she manages to be at the center. Having said this, it would be very difficult not to call anyone’s attention while wearing Chanel jewelry. Yes, it is my Achilles heel so as soon as I watched the diamond rose necklace I knew I had seen it before and it was not difficult to infer where when you know Knightley is the face of Chanel’s perfume Coco. Here are some pictures for your enjoyment:

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Apparently, Chanel provided all the jewelry for the film – not a low-budget production you see – and it pays off especially if you like fashion. However, I saw Princess Betsy in a green lime dress that would be very much in fashion nowadays but struck me as historically inaccurate even though she is a disruptive character. See it for yourself:

Photo credit: Ruthless Beauty (A Ruth Wilson fansite)
Photo credit: Ruthless Beauty (A Ruth Wilson fansite)


Did I enjoy watching Anna Karenina? Yes, I really did, it was a cozy movie perfect for a Sunday evening when all you want is to lay down and rest. But, I don’t think it’s a masterpiece except for Wright’s scenery. I expected more -as I did with the novel – and was quite disappointed by Knightley’s lack of composure for a 19th century character. I would recommend this movie to anyone who is looking for something cozy and beautiful, appealing to the eye and who doesn’t have great expectations, but if you want to watch something of a better quality, there are BBC mini series that I’m sure you will enjoy much more.



  • Sam @ Tiny Library

    I really didn’t like this because of the whole set in the theatre thing, and because the book is one of my favourites and therefore it can never be done right BUT I agree that Kitty was amazing in this version.

    • Elena

      Wasn’t she? I really want to see more of the actress. She’s young so, we’ll see what she becomes!

      I agree our favourite books can never be adapted right.

  • Leah

    I still haven’t seen this! I really like the idea of setting the movie on a stage, and I’m curious to see what kind of effect it really has; I’m glad you liked that part of it!

    And the costumes are lovely, but I can’t help feeling Keira’s hair styling is a bit to Helena Bonham Carter-esque. I love HBC, but I’m not sure her hair belongs on this elegant 19th century character.

    I don’t often expect great things from movie adaptations, but I’m glad this was a cozy film for you!

    • Elena

      I hadn’t thought abou the HBC hair, but you’re right. On the whole I think the movie is not historically accurate. Yes, I loved the costumes and the jewels and the make up, but it feels pretty 21st century to me.

  • classicsjournal

    I was a bit taken aback by the strong symbolism in the use of the theatre– I admit I felt it was too heavy-handed, I would have loved the epic Russian settings. But I admire the risk Wright took and once you get into the movie I thought it was is a good adaptation. I like the movies Keira chooses to be involved in, she has great taste, but I can’t say I’ve been a huge admirer of her acting either. However I thought this was her best work so far. She’s really very emotional in it, I gained a new respect for her talent and rather liked her portrayal of Anna– but I’ve yet to read the book. The jewelry was amazing my favorite was the pearl necklace with the bow (image). 🙂

    • Elena

      Oh wow, how could I forget that one? Loved it. Chanel does have a gift to make the prettiest jewels 🙂

      I like Knightley in modern films. For example, I love the movie Last Night and her acting is wonderful there, but 19th century wouldn’t have allowed for a lot of her face gestures.

      • classicsjournal

        Agreed. I think people forget that it’s not just the clothing that’s changed. Some of our modern expressions and body language etc. would’ve been things the ‘lower class’ would do but definitely not a well-bred lady in society.

  • Lucy (@tolstoytherapy)

    I watched Anna Karenina when it first came out in cinema here in the UK, and your review has brought back a lot of my thoughts on it. I don’t think I’ll ever make up my mind on Keira as Anna – some aspects seem to work, but there was a wider sense of her simply not fitting the role. Kitty, however, was great. Levin wasn’t as I expected him to be, but I did like his characterisation. I saw something of Tolstoy’s self in the character, which I imagine is a choice the director chose to make.

    It is a film I’d like to see again. If I do, I think I’ll refrain from comparing it to the novel, as that simply leads me to question everything rather than enjoy the film (which isn’t bad in itself).

    • Elena

      Years ago I wrote a paper on Wright’s Pride & Prejudice and how it is not really an adaptation of Austen’s novel but a version. I think he tends to modernize everything and allows actors some freedom in lieu of historical accuracy which is great if the movie is “only” for entertainment.

  • amanda

    The trailer for this one never really struck me as making it a must-see, although I am very curious about the idea of setting on a stage. So I’ll probably watch it eventually. It does look pretty!

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