Here’s a film that people will either love or hate. Me? Amore. Amore. Amore.
For starters, it’s one of literature’s great tragic love stories. Anna Karenina doesn’t just fall in love, she is atomised by it. It’s a tale of how instinct and individuality tend to get crushed by conformity; how society will allow you to do whatever you want, once it fits within the constraints of whatever’s considered acceptable behaviour at any given time.
Oh, and how men get away with what women don’t.
As a cinematic experience, this latest version of Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece has to justify its existence, and it does so bravely, and with much success as production designer Sarah Greenwood’s often stunning sets expand or contract in a theatre setting, giving the film an otherwordly feel. In stark contrast the rural scenes are set outside, following the novel’s sub-plot contrasting city and country life. Clever stuff.
Acting-wise, Keira Knightley just about works as the doomed lead, while Jude Law is impressively broody as the earnest husband who agonises over his wife’s emotional treachery.
There are three fantastic stand-out scenes: one, in the theatre-cum-ballroom, where the dancing between Anna and Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson looking remarkably like 1960s’ heartthrob David Hemmings) creates a mesmerising sexual and social tension; the second when Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) and Kitty (Alicia Vikander) anxiously and tenderly express their love for each other through an otherwise innocuous parlour game; and a stage-bound horse race that sees Anna’s all-consuming love for Vronsky erupt in a very public fashion.
The film is wrapped tautly in a whippet-like script by Tom Stoppard, Joe Wright’s bold and often breathtaking direction, and scenes that both test and dazzle the imagination.
And finally, Matthew MacFadyen stands out in a delightfully plummy way as Anna’s blithe-spirited brother: a welcome comic touch in this enjoyable if emotionally-draining tale.