“Anna Karenina” (2012) starring Keira Knightley, Jude Law, & Aaron Taylor-Johnson

Vronsky: I love you!

Anna: Why?

Vronsky: You can’t ask why about love!

In 1874, in Imperial Russia, the aristocratic Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) travels from St. Petersburg to Moscow to save the marriage of her brother Stiva- AKA Prince Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen)- who recently affair w/ the governess. My fellow Austen fans know that Knightley and Macfadyen previously starred together in Pride & Prejudice (2005), also directed by Joe Wright. Anna has a loveless marriage w/ her husband, Count Alexei Karenin (Jude Law); they have a young son- Serhoza. Anna meets a cavalry officer, Count Alexei Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), at the train station; they have a strong attraction to each other right away. She learns that Vronsky will propose to Princess Kitty (Alicia Vikander- in one of her early roles), the younger sister of her sister-in-law Dolly (Kelly Macdonald). Anna convinces Dolly not to divorce Stiva; Kitty invites her to stay for a ball. The diamond necklace that Anna wears is an exclusive piece created by Chanel. Anna and Vronsky dance at the ball and call attention to themselves. They begin a love affair that will lead to tragedy for Anna.

Karenin: I consider jealously to be insulting to you and degrading to me. I have no right to inquire into your feelings. They concern only your conscience.

Wright adopted an experimental (some said ambitious) approach to this story; the majority of the film was shot on a theater built in Shepperton. The skating rink, train station, and stables were dressed on top of the theater. Doors open onto Russian landscapes; some actors walk from one set to another under the stage. Toy trains and doll houses were used for some shots. Levin (Domhnall Gleeson- in one of his early roles) is allowed to venture out of the theater b/c Wright wanted to stress the fact that Levin is the only authentic character. The soundtrack makes use of a Russian folk song that was also adapted by Tchaikovsky in his Fourth Symphony (written in the same time as Tolstoy’s novel). The song that the (presumably gypsy) Masha (Tannishtha Chatterjee) hums and sings near the end is a Bengali lullaby (a language spoken in Bangladesh and the West Bengal region of India). Wow, I was NOT expecting that!

Countess Nordston: Would you die for love, Konstantin Dmitrich?

Levin: I would. But not for my neighbor’s wife.

[pause]

Levin: An impure love is not love, to me. To admire another man’s wife is a pleasant thing, but sensual desire indulged for its own sake is greed, a kind of gluttony, and a misuse of something sacred which is given to us so that we may choose the one person with whom to fulfill our humanness. Otherwise we might as well be cattle.

Countess Nordston: Ah, an idealist!

[laughter erupts]

I just saw this (1st time) last week and was a BIT disappointed (though I didn’t have high hopes for it). I’d heard/read reviews from several viewers who either hated it or were meh (unimpressed). As one viewer commented: “It looks like a perfume ad.” One podcaster said that Wright goes more for “style and beauty than substance.” I thought he did a great job w/ Atonement and liked the freshness he brought to Pride and Prejudice. Macfadyen is the ONLY actor who looks like he’s having fun w/ the role. Macdonald is naturally good in everything, but I think she is under-used here. There is almost no chemistry between Knightley and Taylor-Johnson (who has some distracting hair). I learned that he is British (I assumed he was American b/c I first saw him on Nocturnal Animals). Several fans of the book were esp. disappointed w/ Taylor-Johnson’s portrayal, b/c Vronsky is supposed to be more of a “deeper” man. Law does a fine job (though he looks unglamorous); some of his fans may be shocked to see his (natural) hairline. The younger couple (Gleeson and Vikander) do a good job also; I liked the sweet scene w/ the letter blocks. Levin’s scenes out working the land were done well. These actors teamed up for Ex Machina, a hit movie that was also critically-acclaimed.

There are other versions of this story to check out, if you’re interested; I have seen two other adaptations. The 1997 movie (starring Sophie Marceau and Sean Bean) has the romantic chemistry lacking here, but some viewers felt Marceau was a bit TOO restrained. I always like seeing Alfred Molina; he plays Levin. The 2000 mini-series (starring Helen McCrory and Kevin McKidd) has intelligence and maturity (which some book readers felt Knightley lacked). Sadly, McCrory recently passed away from cancer. I liked how Karenin (Stephen Dillane) and Levin (Douglass Henshall) were portrayed in that show.

[1] I’m not saying all films have to be constructed in a conventional manner, but when the form overtakes the substance something has gone wrong.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Count Vronsky is a piece of serious miscasting. Instead of looking like a great lover and sure temptation for wavering Anna, he looks like some feeble dandy with his foppish shock of dyed curly blonde hair which makes him look quite ridiculous.

Keira Knightley does the best she can, despite looking most of the time like she’s attending a fashion shoot.

[2] Keira Knightley’s version of Anna is not nearly as bad as you would think. She has the sense to restrain herself a little so that the many other elements of the novel shine through. […] This Anna takes Vronsky just because she can, and then ultimately regrets it. We can feel her frustration: she’s young and wants to have fun but she’s tied down to a stuffy older husband. In that sense, it’s quite a modern interpretation, but not hideously so.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Count Vronsky was just miscast. If the novel had been about Anna seducing a schoolboy, he would have been great, but Vronsky is meant to be a dashing man. The styling is atrocious- he looks like a seventies Scandinavian Eurovision entry.

Jude Law as Karenin. A bizarre choice… However, he gives a performance that is probably his best.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

4 thoughts on ““Anna Karenina” (2012) starring Keira Knightley, Jude Law, & Aaron Taylor-Johnson

  1. Not a fan of Keira Knightley except in Bend it Like Beckham. That said, I’ve never seen Karenina on the screen, and I’ve only read the book once.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I was glad I read it (on a train trip from Berlin to Munich in the days before the super fast express trips were possible and the eastern route was completed) and it was good. I am not the kind of person who is hugely susceptible to this kind of sweeping, tragic / romance story, though. My mom read it when she was 14 and loved it.

        Liked by 1 person

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