Directed by Joe Wright and the twelfth adaptation of Leo Tolstoy‘s 1877 novel of the same name in total, Anna Karenina is set in late-19th-century Russia and follows socialite Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) who, married to the passionless government official Alexei (Jude Law), journeys to Moscow to visit her philandering brother Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) to help save his marriage to Dolly (Kelly Macdonald). Exploring the capacity for love that surges through the human heart, the film follows Anna’s affair with the affluent Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), as well as the relationship between Oblonsky’s best friend Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) and Dolly’s younger sister Kitty (Alicia Vikander).
Joe Wright has created another stunning film with his version of Anna Karenina, and his risk pays off as he sets the entire film on a theatre stage. Only at times feeling a little mismatched as the occasional scene enters the outside world, the way that the scenes change around the characters is done beautifully. Wright is one of my favourite directors because of the efforts he puts into the aesthetics of his films, and just like his previous award-winning box office successes Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, from the set designs to the costumes, this film is a marvel to watch.
Starring Keira Knightley in the lead role, the third collaboration between her and the director, her performance was yet again spot on. Alongside Matthew Macfadyen, whose character is the funniest I’ve seen him play so far, there were many similarities to Wright’s other work which did put me off in places, but their performances are another reason why I can always find myself engaging with his films. Non-Wright regulars Jude Law and Domhnall Gleeson also give excellent performances, both provoking a lot of emotion, especially Gleeson who gives his best performance yet.
Even Aaron Johnson wasn’t awful, though I’ve never been much of a fan of his roles, but I do think he also seemed too young for the role. Nevertheless, he and Knightley have a great chemistry, and whilst I have not read the novels myself, from what I’ve read online so far I thought the film expressed their relationship well but that it did need more of an emotional push towards the end.
Overall, all of the character’s relationships are easy to enjoy which compliment the story really well. The performances and aesthetics combined make for a beautiful film, and the story will grab your attention straight away. Whether you like Wright’s work or not, Anna Karenina is worth watching for his efforts of setting the film on stage alone, and it for that risk that this film was one of 2012’s most memorable.
Anna Karenina was released on DVD on 4th February.