Went to see Anna Karenina last night at the Palace Barrack theatre last night as part of the gala closing for the Brisbane International Film Festival (worst facility ever btw… only bathrooms in the place are down two levels from the actual cinemas?). Anyway, it was directed by Joe Wright and starred Keira Knightley (I think they did that Pride and Prejudice where the Bennetts lived on a farm? and Atonement as well) on what I imagine was intended to be a huge elaborate adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina but somewhere along they way, their epic saga took a wrong turn and ended up in Baz Lurhman’s Moulin Rouge… or so it felt.
The movie is visually quite stunning with elaborate and unusually theatrical set designs; hence the Lurhmanesque feel. The costumes, whilst not being strictly period are both beautifully done and exquisitely detailed with luxurious jewels all bringing together the decadent heights of Russian aristocracy. The cast is excellent, full of fantastic British actors from the phenomenally famous to the frustratingly familiar, who put in some fabulous performances.
For the most part the screenplay sticks to the story – but not enough to satisfy Tolstoy purists/traditionalists, and the truncation doesn’t appear to condense the story in a manner congruous with allowing the characters enough depth to engage people who’ve never read the book… so it actually gets (I’m reluctant to say this), a bit boring in parts, and you don’t really care what happens to most of the characters.
Keira Knightley plays the angst ridden Anna, the 19th century Russian aristocrat who is married to Count Alexi Alexandrovich Karenin, a high ranking government minister (Jude Law) who in the book seems largely indifferent and even cold to his much younger wife Anna, and has ‘interesting’ ideas about love… but in this adaptation he is the model of a victim worthy of our sympathy. Following the book, she finds herself in love with the soldier Count Vronsky and subsequently socially ostracized (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who looks familiar but I have no idea who he is). Meanwhile, the Konstantin “Kostya” Dmitrievich Levin and Princess Ekaterina “Kitty” Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya affair is played out by Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander in a manner that seems almost wholly unconnected to the main story.
All the characters have upper class British accents to denote their aristocratic social status, which annoyed the hell out of me given French was the preferred language of the Russian aristocracy at the time… so if they didn’t want them sporting thick Russian accents and sounding like the peasants, why not try on the slightly more accurate French accents…. yeah nit picking I know. But it does seem if someone, anyone, is supposed to be well born in a movie they MUST speak with a British accent whether it’s set in Chicago or ancient Rome! Grrr. Hollywood.
I have no idea who wrote the adapted screenplay (Google it, if you care) but the entire production was extremely theatrical… and by that I don’t mean ‘over the top’, but rather, set in a theatre and as a play staged within a movie, with ‘behind the curtains’ type scenes that served for alleyways and backrooms which flicked back and forth between traditional movie sets and an operatic looking theatre? It was quite bizarre and somewhat hard to comprehend what the hell they were attempting to communicate in using this unusual and awkward cinematic device that added nothing to the story and in many ways distracted and even detracted from it? It made no sense to me right up to the very end. It also has an interesting dichotomy in it’s visual aesthetic as it blends aristocratic luxury with a strange decrepitude – though for the live of me I can’t figure out why? All I can come up with is it’s an allusion to the impending social reform that led to the demise of the Russian aristocracy.
At the end of the day though, Anna comes off looking ‘psycho hose beast’ jealous or manic-depressive or something, Karenin comes out like a kind hearted, misused victimised cuckolded husband, and Vronsky pulls up exasperated and a bit bobble-headed, shallow and ill explained. Somehow the film completely fails to convey any real sexual tension or excitement. The depth of emotional turmoil and maternal angst experienced by Anna is pretty much absent, the social inequity, potential ruin for all involved that the book is packed to the gills with, is also likewise not adequately conveyed.
Such opportunity for truly epic cinematic drama and suffering – no one does suffering, real suffering… like the Russian industrialists. All gone to waste. Now why water all that down? Bit disappointing really.