Today: February 29, 2024

Anna Karenina

Celebrated director Joe Wright teams up with his close-knit team to deliver what could be the trickiest film of his career; his own take on Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel Anna Karenina.


Celebrated director Joe Wright teams up with his close-knit team to deliver what could be the trickiest film of his career; his own take on Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel Anna Karenina. The results are visually stunning and like nothing audiences will see this season.


Set in Imperial Russia in the late 19th Century, Keira Knightley plays Anna Karenina, a greatly admired St
Petersburg aristocrat married to Alexei Karenin (Jude Law). On a trip to Moscow she meets a young nobleman and
officer, Count Vronsky (Aaron
), who she starts a passionate love affair with that shocks
the Russian elite. This is a great story for the modern age because, as our
society gets more liberal, Anna Karenina reminds us the world wasn’t always so
free. Although affairs were commonplace in society, for a woman to have one and
actually fall in love, is beyond a scandal. As one character puts it: “She did
worse than break the law, she broke the rules.” The film starts off
fantastically, and is equally captivating when Anna realises the full
consequences of her choices. However, Tom
’s screenplay does slump a little in the middle during some of the
less intense scenes.


Easily the most striking aspect of the film is how it looks.
Wright has teamed up, for the eighth time, with award winning production
designer Sarah Greenwood. Together
they have created a unique environment in which the majority of the story takes
place within an abandoned theatre. The decay of the theatre shows how the
Russian empire is dying from within, the theatre stage represents how the
aristocracy are simply staging a show and playing their chosen roles. It is an
excellent metaphor that works perfectly. The space transforms seamlessly from
ice-rinks, to theatres, to horse tracks, with the aristocracy in the higher
tiers, while everyone else either occupies the floor or the backstage areas.
The metaphor only disappears when the action is away from the social circles of
Moscow and St Petersburg and instead occurs in the countryside where the shots
are on location.


Wright also teams up with costume designer Jacqueline Durran and hair and make-up designer Ivana Primorac. Together they make
every cast member and extra look perfect. With delightful costumes and flawless
skin the aristocracy look every bit the desirable elite but the slight taint to
their outfits hints at the slow decay of their power. There is also fantastic
music score, composed by regular Wright collaborator Dario Marianelli, which will likely get a nod come reward season.


Overall the film looks and feel like an extended perfume advert
but Wright makes sure the tragedy and emotion is not lost in all the gloss.
This leads to some strikingly beautiful and poignant scenes that are both
visually stunning, but also emotionally hard-hitting. Scenes like the ball or the horse race stay with you long
after you’ve left the cinema.


The breath-taking visuals are coupled with strong performances
from all the actors. Since Wright has worked with Knightley on two other
occasions he knows how to get the best out of his leading lady. Another
highlight has to be Knightley’s one-time Mr Darcy, Matthew Macfadyen, playing Anna’s lothario brother Oblonsky.
Macfadyen steals many of the scenes he is in and plays a light-hearted role
that is strongly necessary to break up the tragedy of the story.


Within all the praise Anna Karenina does have one flaw, and that
is the chemistry between its two leads. Although both Knightley and
Taylor-Johnson give excellent separate performances they don’t seem to work
together on screen. As a result, it’s hard for an audience to fully believe in
the love that Anna has sacrificed everything for, leaving you wondering whether
it was truly worth it.


Although there have been a number of film adaptations of Anna
Karenina, Wright manages to make this one his own. With an intriguing concept
and unparalleled visuals, this is certainly a treat for the eyes. Due to the
lack of essential chemistry between the lovers, Wright’s Anna Karenina will be
remembered more for these visuals than anything else but that is certainly no
bad thing when the quality is this high.


Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email:

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