Stunning twist on a classic
ANNA KARENINA ( M)
★★★★ Director: Joe Wright ( Atonement) Stars: Keira Knightley, Aaron Johnson, Jude Law, Alicia Vikander, Matthew Macfadyen Now showing: State and Village ( Eastlands) cinemas
Turn the page, then turn the stage PSSSST! Know anyone who’s always complaining that all costume dramas are the same? Then simply point them at this majestically unconventional new version of the oft- adapted Leo Tolstoy novel Anna Karenina.
There. That should shut them up for quite some time to come. All the world is a stage in the new Anna
Karenina. Literally so. How so? The bulk of the film takes place inside a luxuriously appointed old theatre. All of the atmospheric locations canvassed by Tolstoy, which swept the length of 19th century Russia, are still up there on the screen.
But through a combination of cleverly designed interchangeable sets and some highly innovative sleight- of- camera, the action never really leaves the theatre.
Director Joe Wright is making a simple point with this device, but it is nevertheless apt. To be part of Russian high society at the time depicted in this was to agree to play a role in an elaborate show.
As long as everybody stuck to the script, everybody was free to do as they please.
Of course, the drama surrounding the title character here – played by a well- cast Keira Knightley, pictured – begins when she departs from that script and begins acting out her own story.
The moment, the married and miserable Anna, casts eyes on the single and handsome Vronsky ( Aaron Johnson), she just has to be near him.
While her husband Alexei ( Jude Law), a dull and pre- occupied nobleman, takes an eternity to notice Anna’s obvious indiscretion, the affair soon becomes the hottest gossip in Moscow.
The tongues just keep on wagging, the fingers just keep on pointing, and Anna and Vronsky just keep on setting each other aflame. Things can only end with everyone involved getting burnt.
If you can go with the grandiose flow of the director’s unique vision for this take on Tolstoy’s tale, it is hard not to be wowed by what transpires. However, some viewers – particularly those of a puritanical literary bent – are sure to be irritated by what they consider to be little more than a self- indulgent gimmick.
It will only take a few minutes to work out where you stand on this Anna Karenina.
If you don’t like Wright and his team are up to, a long and annoying two hours awaits.
Performances are uniformly excellent, with Knightley doing some of the best work of her career as the angst- ridden, amorous Anna.
Among a top- flight support cast, Matthew MacFadyen and Alicia Vikander ( playing Anna’s very different siblings) are standouts, as is an under- stated Jude Law.