Anna Karenina: A Brechtian Masterpiece
September 17, 2012
By: Becky Snowden
The latest adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is fantastic, rivalling classic adaptations starring the great Greta Garbo and Vivien Leigh. This colourful, energetic and theatrical film ensures that the audience is hooked for its entirety. The film is written by Sir Tom Stoppard, whose recent adaptation of Ford Maddox Ford’s Parade’s End has won the hearts of the nation and critics alike. He is also a world-renowned playwright and writer of blockbusters such as Shakespeare in Love, so Anna Karenina was destined for greatness from the outset.
It’s interesting to note that Tolstoy hated the theatre, believing it to be absurd and vain, and yet Stoppard and Joe Wright (director), presented the film in a Brechtian style, as though it is a play, taking place in what appears to be a large theatre, with sublime scene changes and stagehands to help out. Initially, the fast paced movements and scene changes are hard to follow, but as the film goes on, the scenes become longer and easier to follow. The production of the film has clearly been significant, with interesting use of props to move onto real action, like a toy train moving around a track becoming real and huge, as Anna travels to Moscow or back home. It combines cinema with theatre beautifully.
The theatrical nature of the film is fitting, despite going against Tosltoy’s ideals, as it appears to be a play on the melodramatic and theatrical lives of the aristocracy. Their lives are far from what we would call normal, full of balls and social events. There are elaborate moments in which the entire ensemble freezes, allowing the dialogue and movement of the principal characters to be focused on. A key example of this is when Anna and the Count are waltzing. As soon as the cast freeze, their dance becomes more sensual and romantic as they move alone in the ballroom.
Keira Knightley shines as Anna, whose irrational actions lead to the collapse of her world. She is married to the handsome yet prim and boring government official, Alexei Karenin (Jude Law), who is more like a priest than a husband and refuses to connect properly with Anna or their son. She falls for the exciting young Count Vlonsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), beginning an illicit affair that becomes the talk of Russia and leads, ultimately, to her downfall. Knightley often appears to be stereotyped as one character, the posh, upper class socialite, and I tend to dislike her, yet as Anna, she is perfect and pushes the boundaries of her usual acting style, causing the audience to both love and loathe, empathise with and criticise her.
Perhaps the production of the film is too distracting, featuring high fashion outfits and bright, elaborate sets, not dark and philosophical like the novel. It can at times distract the audience from the story or add too much to a scene. But ultimately, the dramatic intensity of the acting outshines the gorgeous sets and clothes, presenting the most colourful and inviting adaptation to date. A must see for all lovers of Tolstoy, drama and art.