movies: Rus­sian tales of in­fi­delity and in­trigue...........

Keira and Karen­ina are made for each other, writes

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - CONTENTS -

HE new Anna Karen­ina is as re­gal, ro­man­tic and tragic as ever. The Tol­stoy tale of a bored wife and dot­ing mother mar­tyred by her scan­dalous love for a rak­ish cavalry of­fi­cer in im­pe­rial Rus­sia is a per­fect pe­riod ve­hi­cle for Keira Knight­ley, who al­ways brings a chest-heav­ing sex­u­al­ity to such pieces – even the un­der­stated ro­mances of Jane Austen.

But her re­u­nion with her Pride & Prej­u­dice di­rec­tor Joe Wright has been stage-man­aged by the great play­wright and screen­writer Tom Stop­pard. And he’s given Tol­stoy some­thing no ear­lier screen ver­sion could claim – play­ful­ness.

Stop­pard, of Rosen­crantz & Guilden­stern are Dead, and Wright imag­ine the whole of Tol­stoy’s rich can­vas of 1870s Rus­sia as a stage – the many melo­dra­matic characters in his up­per-crust soap opera mere play­ers, ac­tors step­ping into the spot­light, lean­ing over the foot­lights, or duck­ing back­stage where the ugly ‘‘real’’ world of just-freed peas­ants and poverty live among the cat­walks and ropes used to raise and lower scenery.

A stel­lar cast waltzes through stun­ning sets, mixed with painted back­drops and model lo­co­mo­tives, some cov­ered with snow from the pre-Soviet win­ters. It’s an ob­vi­ous ar­ti­fice that ren­ders the over-the-top emo­tions and overly baroque deca­dence of Rus­sia’s rul­ing classes, ‘‘po­lite so­ci­ety’’, just a tad ris­i­ble. And it’s a wel­come touch.

Anna Karen­ina (Knight­ley) is lost the moment she locks eyes with the preen­ing pretty boy Count Vron­sky (played by Aaron Tay­lor-John­son, ex­chang­ing his Kick-Ass cos­tume for fancy mil­i­tary dress).

‘‘Give me back my peace,’’ she pants as he curls his mous­tache and sim­mers over her. ‘‘There can be no peace be­tween us.’’ It’s wrong. It’s sin­ful. And as Anna’s states­man­hus­band (Jude Law) lec­tures, ‘‘Sin has a price. You may be sure of that.’’

Anna has a sort of Emma Bo­vary bore­dom about her knuckle-crack­ing spouse, from his im­pe­ri­ous ways of or­der­ing her to bed to the fancy sil­ver case he keeps his con­doms in.

Vron­sky for­gets he is sup­posed to be smit­ten by Kitty – Princess Eka­te­rina (Ali­cia Vikan­der), younger sis­ter to Anna’s sis­ter-in-law. As reck­less as he is rak­ish, he is cat­nip to Anna. Count­ess Ly­dia (Emily Wat­son) may lec­ture her that her hus­band is a ‘‘saint’’ and that ‘‘We must cher­ish him, for Rus­sia’s sake,’’ but Anna’s not buy­ing it.

And even though Anna just talked her sis­ter-in-law (Kelly Macdon­ald, earthy and dis­traught) into for­giv­ing and tak­ing back Anna’s way­ward brother (the hi­lar­i­ous Matthew Mac­fadyen), she tum­bles into an af­fair that will be her ruin. Will she her­self be for­given, taken back and ‘‘saved’’?

It’s an over-fa­mil­iar story, thanks to the many ver­sions over the years, but this Karen­ina, from its dancers-frozen-in-place waltzes to the pub­lic whis­pers that play like shouted in­dis­cre­tions, re­minds us that all the great pe­riod ro­mances weren’t writ­ten by Ms Austen, or even writ­ten in English.

opens on Fe­bru­ary 14, with ad­vance screen­ings at se­lected cinemas from to­mor­row un­til Sun­day.

Jude Law and Keira Knight­ley.

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