Genre: Drama, Romance
Cast: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Synopsis: Anna Karenina has it all: family, good husband, oodles of money. However, she throws it all away for a few rides on Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Kremlin.
I tried reading the novel Anna Karenina when I was 16. That book is the size of a brick and virtually impenetrable thanks to complex family dynasties and all the vodka swilling. I’ve always considered it a bit of a failing on my part that I didn’t stick with the novel. To lessen the guilt, I decided to take the high-school-English-Lit-slacker’s way out and just watch the recent movie adaptation. Maybe I should have gone with an older, more reputable adaptation because this movie felt like a two hour long Chanel ad.
I don’t use the term ‘Chanel ad’ in a negative way. The film is visually stunning and the cinematography and art direction was impressive: it was like watching a lavish theatre production which I thought was a very interesting interpretation of the source material. The costumes were absolutely insane and, in conjunction with the stage/art direction, the film took on a toy-box quality at times and reminded me of Ken Russell’s The Boy Friend. Anna Karenina was very pretty to look at but, ultimately, focusing on the visuals meant that the actual drama of the story fell flat. It’s a film that swapped substance for style and that’s probably not the best approach to take when you’re trying to condense a book of approximately 1000 pages into a two hour film. You want to try and get as much of the raw emotion from the book onto celluloid and not be bogged down by the detail. Ultimately, the movie failed to capture the complexities of the novel’s characters and 19th Century Russian sexual politics satisfactorily.
Another thing that annoyed me a little was that not a lot of time was spent on the Kitty/Levin subplot. Kitty is perhaps the most interesting character in the story because she finds redemption and matures: there’s character development and growth and we, the audience/reader, come to respect her. Anna, on the other hand, is just a wealthy lady who gets her rat out for the lads and then gets called a ho. The lack of focus on Kitty and Levin’s development was another flaw.
It wasn’t all bad though. The film was generally well-acted, despite some OTT pouting moments from Keira (I swear to God I was shouting at the screen for her to loosen her jaw). What the movie does do very well is convey the opulence and grandeur of moneyed Russia in the 19th Century: lots of fur and prancing about in ball gowns, essentially. The film manages to intertwine the realistic with the fantastical quite well and there are some spectacular and trippy moments. However, as I mentioned earlier, the substance is missing. There isn’t enough clout or power behind the beauty. Ultimately, watching this movie is like looking at a beautiful cake and embedded in that cake is chocolate chips…oh, no wait, they’re raisins. Disappointing right? I mean, I’m still going to eat that cake but chocolate chips would have been better….what the fuck am I talking about?
- Amazing costumes and art direction. All very pretty to look at.
- The scene with Lenin on the hay-bale was particularly pretty.
- Surprisingly erotic.
- More substance was needed. We needed to know exactly how and why Anna went from the belle of the ball to the crazy crack ho on the corner. One day she was the top bitch in the room and then it’s like “Oh no you’re not” and she’s like “Boo hoo let me stick my head under a train.” Maybe the subtlety of the book is lost on a generation which has grown up with nude selfies and Grindr.
- They made Levin look like a ginger Willy Wonka at one point.
The 2012 movie is not a particularly bad adaptation, but it’s probably not the best either. This is a good movie to put on if you want to kill some time but I wouldn’t recommend it as mandatory viewing. It’s best to get carried away with the beauty of it all but don’t expect anything poignant.