Anna Karenina ***/4 – a movie review by James Berardinelli
Like Frankenstein and Hamlet, Anna Karenina is a literary touchstone that filmmakers return to on a regular basis.
The first filmed version of the book was a 1910 German silent which has long since been lost to the ages. It was released shortly before Tolstoy’s death; no indications exist whether he saw it and, if he did, what his opinion was. Other, more prestigious productions followed. In the century-plus since Anna Karenina initially reached the screen, no period of more than 13 years has passed without a new interpretation either for the cinema or on television. Joe Wright’s 2012 adaptation is the first new Anna Karenina since a 2000 British mini-series. The previous theatrical treatment was Bernard Rose’s 1997 spectacle, which starred Sophie Marceau and Sean Bean.
Wright, working from a screenplay by celebrated playwright Tom Stoppard, elects to do some unusual things with the well-known story. The central tragedy remains intact with the vivacious Anna (Kiera Knightley), the wife of the respected Karenin (Jude Law), embarking upon a torrid affair with a Russian cavalry officer, Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). But Wright puts a different slant on the love affair by making Anna and Vronsky self-absorbed and not especially likeable and by transforming Karenin, who is usually portrayed as petty and spiteful, into a sympathetic figure. It’s a bold approach that freshens up the material, at least until the end, when Anna’s descent into depression and drug addiction kills the pace.
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