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:
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!
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:
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:
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.