Joe Wright’s adaptation of Anna Karenina is an interesting experiment, but not an entirely successful one. The film has some strong attributes, but not enough to make it a truly great adaptation of a literary classic.
Anna Karenina is a married aristocrat who travels to Moscow in order to help her adulterous brother to try to repair his marriage. Meanwhile, Levin is determined to propose to the beautiful young Kitty, although she has eyes for Count Vronsky. When Anna and Vronsky meet, however, it is the start of a tumultuous affair…
What makes Joe Wright’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina different to previous versions is the decision to stage it in a theatre. In is not performed as a play, as the camera is fluid. Rather, the majority of the action takes place in an actual theatre, on stage and backstage, with areas designed to look like particular locations. The staging makes it difficult to get fully involved or emotionally invested, however. It takes a siginificant amount of time to get used to the set up and to stop noticing the theatrics.
The staging perhaps would have worked better as an opening rather than a device to maintain throughout. There are some nice touches, but the opening sequence is a little too disorientating. The film’s downfall is that it does not fully engage viewers. The backstage scenes in particular pulls the audience out of the action. The outside scenes are a stark contrast from the interior staging. But perhaps Wright wished to make a noticeable divergence between the country and the city.
The costuming is excellent in Anna Karenina. The score, likewise, feels a good fit for the film. Wright’s film boasts a great cast and some good performances from the supporting players. Jude Law elicits sympathy as Alexei Karenin, while Matthew Macfadyen is well cast as Oblonsky. Keira Knightley is less impressive, although her performance is by no means awful.
Anna Karenina feels a little overlong in the final third, but is wonderful to look at. Wright’s decision to stage the film in this way is certainly bold, although a tragedy such as Tolstoy’s story should evoke a more emotional response.