See This One for the Costumes Alone
ANNA KARENINA (2012/IN THEATERS) There seems to be no awards love yet for the latest film from director Joe Wright who also gave us Price and Prejudice (2005), Atonement (2007), and Hanna (2011). I happen to be a big fan of all those films and also of Keira Knightley, Wright’s favorite actress, who takes on the title role of Anna in this over-the-top artful rendition of the Leo Tolstoy classic. This time the screenplay is by no less than Tom Stoppard and the production is in a league of its own for creativity. The entire movie is set in a 19th century theater and every inch of that setting is used, including the catwalks and the orchestra pit. But unlike some movies in theater settings (remember A Prairie Home Companion?), in this film sometimes the walls fall away and we are transported straight out into a Russian wheat field or winter palace. Good grief! It’s a bit dizzying at the start, but soon you get into the rhythm of this artifice and begin to watch the story for what it is—a tale of tragic love. Anna is a good woman, married to the highly regarded and important Karenin (an excellent Jude Law) who is a good man but something of a bore. The two have a young son who is the apple of Anna’s eye. On the train to meet with her brother Stiva (played by Matthew Macfayden who was Mr. Darcy in Wright’s version of Pride and Prejudice) and his wife Dolly (Kelly Macdonald), Anna meets the Countess Vronsky and her handsome young son Alexei (a blond Aaron-Taylor Johnson–you may remember him from Savages or Nowhere Boy). Young Vronsky is attracted to Anna and courts her from that instant forward. Anna falls under his spell and eventually abandons everything—her son, her daughter by Vronsky, her life in public, her husband—to enjoy the passion of romance. Knightley is brilliant in the role, showing a wide range of emotion. And of course, she is positively gorgeous in the endless show of costumes which mark the period and the wealth of Russian society in those days. Of course, there’s a tragic ending—surely you know it. Does the movie work, amidst all the hustle and bustle of its staging? I think ultimately yes thanks to the strength of Keira Knightley and surprisingly of Jude Law. Catch it while you can—but only if you like period pieces done to excess!