Russian literature is always depressing, but that shouldn’t be surprising; Russia has had its share of turmoil through the centuries. Not to mention the awfully frigid weather they have to endure for most of the year. That can’t be enjoyable.
I can’t think of one Russian novel with a happy ending, and Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”, considered brilliant by the literature community, and one of the best pieces ever written by many readers, is certainly no exception.
Tolstoy is too intimidating for me so I didn’t read the novel, although I’ve been told by those who have that he writes for the common man. I did see the 1948 film version of the story that starred Vivian Leigh, and I recently saw the 2012 release featuring Keira Knightly and Jude Law.
Interestingly, the 1948 adaptation left much more to the imagination than the recent version, and I’m not sure whether it’s just that today’s attention spans need more detail, or the detail included in the modern film was just too controversial for 1948. Both versions tell a very similar adaptation of the story, but the modern version is also a lavish feast for the eyes.
Director Joe Wright’s attempt to bring this sad story to the big screen is also his third film with Knightly, who had the starring roles in his “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement”, another depressing heartbreaker.
Wright took a different approach when directing “Anna Karenina”, and since I hadn’t read any reviews before going to see the movie, it took me by surprise, and a minute or two passed before I caught on. The story played out as if it was on stage in a live theater production, with behind the stage scenes of characters still in character, all playing out to an empty audience. The movie audience, I suppose was to get the feeling they were seeing a stage play, an interestingly creative approach, and one that I haven’t seen before, but also one I found very distracting even after I grew used to it. Stranger yet, it didn’t play like that all of the time; in some scenes, especially those outdoors, it came off like a typical movie.
Anna Karenina is a role perfectly suited to Knightly, who seems to be everywhere these days, and has proven her versatility in the classics and modern-day stories. Jude Law is just as perfect in his role as Anna’s husband, Karenin, although he seemed miscast to me when I first learned he would play that part. He does, however, make it very believable.
The rest of the cast is also wonderful, especially Kelly MacDonald, who is exceptional in the role of Dolly, Anna’s sister-in-law, and the two actors who played Levin and Kitty, (Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander). Their love story plays a minor second to that of Anna and the Count, yet it is far more interesting.
I realize that by saying I didn’t like the film is almost equivalent to admitting I don’t enjoy Shakespeare. The story is classic tragedy, and actors everything they could with this sad, yet widely known story. However, some of the scenes were too drawn out, and it just didn’t hold my attention they way I expected.
In closing, “Anna Karenina” is artistically shot, but in terms of an enjoyment factor, I would rate it as average. I’m tempted to say wait until it is released on DVD, but it’s lavish set should be appreciated on the big screen; that is, if you plan to see it at all.