Director: Joe Wright
Cast: Keira Knightley, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Jude Law, Matthew MacFadyen, Domhnall Gleeson.
Run-Time: 126 minutes
Release: Sept 7th
Director Joe Wright and Keira Knightley’s third outing was set up to be a walk in the park; another slightly updated venture for the period drama. Another Atonement, Pride and Prejudice revisited. A careful pace, recognisably distinguished locations, and an enjoyable plot treatment. Anna Karenina, however, plays fast and loose with these established hallmarks; seizing attention from the beginning with curiosity, and following through on the up-swing with triumphant aplomb.
The story is well known. Anna (Knightley) is unwittingly lost in a loveless relationship with her insufferably boring, but intelligently sweet husband Alexi (a quietly brilliant Jude Law). Enter the steaming gaze of Count Vronsky (Johnson), a young military man with a penchant for brooding and actionable lust. Karenina’s descent from high society into the bowels of this affair is carefully framed by explanatory sub-plots involving her brother Oblonsky’s (MacFadyen) affairs, and Konstantin’s (Gleeson) honourably sentimental determination in pursuing Kitty’s (Alicia Vikander) misplaced affections.
The whole film is a waltzing pastiche of experimental set pieces encapsulated solely within the space of an abandoned theatre. This ambitious move is questionable, yet it is executed with such confidence and gliding determination that it couldn’t help but be a success. The decaying aesthetic of the set mirrors the instability of our anti-heroine’s fulcrum. Anna falls from the pedestal of St. Petersburg society through her actions and is left psychologically destitute from it. The set illustrates the decaying and senseless grandiosity of the world into which we are thrown.
While all this may at times come across as, well, conceited, it is held in place by a barrage of stalwart performances. Of particular note is Gleeson’s steadfast honesty in his portrayal of Constantin Levin, romanticising the plight of rural Russia while balancing his disdain for urbanised society. Matthew MacFadyen—also of Wright’s stable—delivers amusement behind the moustache of lovable vagabond and serial womaniser Oblonsky. Performance and mise-en-scéne are complemented magnificently by ornate and wonderfully choreographed sequences such as a grandiose ball, and the furiously intense horse race.
At times there is a communication breakdown between theme and screenplay, but there is always dialogue or characteristic exposure to act as guidance. Knightley’s baroque insanity as the titular Anna can at times be oppressive to the conceit, but is masterfully drawn in before the character is lost in filmic translation.
Anna Karenina is ambitious, clever, curious and fantastical all at the same time. Tied together with jaw-dropping camerawork and a score that would melt steel, Wright’s third outing with Knightley may serve to be his finest.