“Anna Karenina” (BBC – 2000)

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Sometimes fine actors just don’t have chemistry w/ each other!  This is the main problem in the 2000 BBC miniseries based on Leo Tolstoy’s well-known, tragic love story.  Helen McCrory (in the title role) and Kevin McKidd (who plays Count Vronsky) don’t generate much heat, which is a crucial part of the story.  She is an especially good actor w/ a great voice and onscreen presence.  Her few scenes w/ the little boy who played her son were touching.

In the 1997 version (w/ Sean Bean and Sophie Marceau), the leads not only look good together, but actually look like they are in love.  Though that film has its own flaws, it has much more passion in it.

The director in the miniseries made some odd choices.  Sometimes a handheld camera is not needed, but it’s used anyway.  There are too many close-ups and not enough light.  In the ’97 version, when Anna and Vronsky first meet, you can see their mutual attraction.  But in this version, the crucial moment becomes ho-hum.  Anna just looks at Vronsky for a moment through her veil- a lost opportunity for the director.  Their first dance is much more romantic/dramatic in the’97 version.  (It reminded me of Scarlett and Rhett’s first dance in Gone with the Wind.)

The actors who rise to the occasion in the miniseries are Douglas Henshall (Constantine Levin) and Paloma Baeza (Princess Kitty).  Henshall, whose real Scottish accent pops out in a few scenes, is the long-haired/bearded gentleman farmer w/ a past.  He thinks too much and worries if he’ll ever win over Kitty, who is innocent and young.  Baeza’s character starts out as a silly girl w/ a crush on the dashing Vronsky.  In time, Kitty learns about love and blossoms into a mature/sensitive wife.

 No one may build their happiness on another’s pain.

Anna’s philandering brother Stiva (played by Mark Strong) and his wife Dolly(played by Amanda Root) both get some nice lines.  “I love him, but I don’t respect him,” Dolly admits toward the end of the film.  She tolerates her husband’s affairs (just as many Russian nobles did at that time).

Anna and Vronsky’s love affair is atypical for their circle.  They truly are in love, not just fooling around b/c of lust or boredom.  Stephen Dillane (who plays Karenin) won’t give Anna a divorce, so she and Vronsky can’t marry.  Anna is forbidden to see her 8 y.o. son and becomes a social outcast.  Vronsky can’t give his baby daughter his name w/o that divorce.

Every time I tried to display my innermost desires – a wish to be morally good – I met with contempt and scorn, and as soon as I gave in to base desires I was praised and encouraged.  –Leo Tolstoy wrote two years after publication of Anna Karenina

After Levin meets Anna, he tell her brother that he liked her b/c “she’s so honest.”  Anna eventually spirals downward, turning to alcohol and opium.  She accuses Vronsky of betraying her w/ a younger woman.  Vronsky goes off to take care of some business for his mother.  But Anna is so paranoid and desperate by this point that she throws herself under a train.

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