Movies: "Anna Karenina" | Arts & Culture

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Movies: "Anna Karenina"
Movies: "Anna Karenina"


Here’s a handsome Christmas present in the form of a highly original and sumptuous staging of the Leo Tolstoy novel, scripted by the great British playwright Tom Stoppard and directed by Joe Wright (“Atonement”).


The movie was shot almost entirely in an old theater, with the actors deftly moving from scene to scene.  As doors open, new sets are revealed.  Some of those doors also lead outdoors to offer ravishing shots of the Russian countryside -- but of the main characters, only one is allowed outside.  That is Levin (Domhnall Gleeson, son of Brendan), whose happy scything with the peasants frees him from the chilly embrace of 19th century Russian high society.


You already know the basic storyline, I’m sure.  Anna (Keira Knightley) is married to Karenin (Jude Law) a dry St. Petersburg official, whom she married at 18.  “Not for love,” she confides.  They have an 8 or 9-year old son.  On a visit to Moscow she meets the dashing young cavalry officer, Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, lately seen as “Kick-Ass”) and sparks fly.


Vronsky follows her back to Petersburg, where she shocks society, not because she’s having an affair but because she dares make it public.  The long-suffering Karenin tries to warn her off, but can do nothing to stop his wife’s smoldering passion.  She has Vronsky’s child and they run off together, only to return once again to a now hostile set of former friends.  “I would visit her if she broke the law,” says one, “but she broke the rules.”


And of course it all ends under a train.  “There can be no peace for us,” says Vronsky.  “Only misery and the greatest happiness.”


In contrast to the mannered malice of the ruling class, Tolstoy and Stoppard give us several sympathetic characters, including Levin, his love Kitty (the charming Swede Alicia Vikander), his ailing radical brother Nikolai (David Wilmot), the warm-hearted, constantly hungry bureaucrat, Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) and his wife Dolly (Kelly Macdonald).


So we’ve got a great novel, a screenplay by one of the world’s best and some top-of-the line actors.  But it’s the production itself that really makes this movie great.  Director Wright called upon some of his longtime collaborators to put it together, including cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (“The Avengers”), composer Dario Marianelli (“The Soloist”) and most importantly, production designer Sarah Greenwood (“Atonement” and  “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”) and costume designer Jacqueline Durran (“Sherlock Holmes”).  


Put simply, this movie just looks gorgeous.  The sets are as rich as the Russian nobles and the costumes, featuring oodles of pearls and fur, are fantastic.  


With its unusual staging, the movie may take a little getting used to;  at the start, I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the actors were about to burst into song.   But if you let it work its magic on you, you will be well rewarded.


“Anna Karenina” is rated R for its adult subject matter.  Older offspring are encouraged to see it before they take Russian Lit in college (or maybe in place of it).  I give it an A.

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