Movie Night - Anna Karenina reviewed by Seán Kenehan
In pre-revolutionary St Petersburg, a bored wife of a respected gentleman has her passions reignited by a dashing young soldier and embarks on a tumultuous affair that rocks the very foundations of Russian society.
Courtesy of Joe Wright, director of Atonement and Pride and Prejudice, comes yet another hyper-stylised period piece that is truly gorgeous to behold. Based on Tolstoy’s literary classic of the same name, many feared that this adaptation would succumb to the tedium of an unendurable running time but Wright circumvents this problem by making a film so visually interesting and snappily paced that the audience is constantly looking forward to the next ingenious scene transition. This effect is due in part to the director’s masterstroke of setting the film almost entirely on a stage of a theatre, with new backgrounds and props constantly sliding into view.
True to the novel, this is an exploration of love, boredom and infatuation; it examines the inner turmoil caused by the disjuncture between the satiation of carnal appetites and the security of faithful union.
Keira Knightley gives a solid performance as Anna, a morally upright socialite turned hysterical pariah; while Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Count Vronsky manages to confidently straddle the line between charismatic rogue and lecherous creep.
However, it is Jude Law as Alexei the wronged husband who steals the show, a saintly figure throughout whose extraordinary tolerance is constantly met with casual cruelty. Law’s performance is a masterful study in subtlety as we witness his repressed minister silently crumble from a broken heart.
But this is not a dreary affair, though the source material is weighty there is room left for levity, primarily in the form of Matthew Macfadyen’s Stiva, Anna’s brother and a straying husband who delights with his playful musings on the workings of romantic dalliances.
There is much else to enjoy here, such as a wonderfully choreographed set-piece featuring a swan-like waltz that proves truly captivating. The film also boasts visually stunning sets and costume designs (for which it won an Academy Award) epitomising the decadence of Russian high society in the era immediately preceding the communist revolution.
Much lauded as one of the greatest novels of all time, director Joe Wright has a lot to live up to with his adaptation and he has managed it with aplomb as he injects a feeling of kinesis that is almost ubiquitously absent from the period drama genre. The perennial truth of its central themes means that this stunning film will continue to captivate audiences for generations to come.
Seán is an Irish journalist who is currently living in Barcelona. He will be blogging for Metropolitan, contributing movie reviews on-line. More reviews can be found on Seán's blog here.