Film Review: Anna Karenina

Taking on Tolstoy can be problematic at the best of times. He’s not an author know for his simplistic ideas, or basic creations and themes. He likes to take a principle and delve deep into its inner most psyche, ensuring no stone unturned and that no reader, unless they are a university don with suede elbow patches, really has an idea of what he’s banging on about.

Well, that’s my take on the man, I don’t wear elbow patches, and, one of my biggest regrets in life is that I read to a level a long, long way below Tolstoy.

So, my forays into his world come through adaptations. Whether it is on the screen or the stage. And Anna Karenina is just another brief encounter into a world I will never really inhabit. It’s probably not surprising then that for me, I just didn’t get this film.

The whole setting seems confusing. Is it in a theatre or real life? Visually it’s stunning and doesn’t surprise me it won an Oscar for best costume design but this just left me unsure as to where exactly it was all taking place. As a result, I never quite let myself go enough. I didn’t relax into the film and essentially just felt like I was being twisted through the plot never quite sure what the film was trying to explain.

Is it a look at the social acceptability of the upper class of that era? The belief that a women marry there husband for life and no matter what, honours him and their vows. Taking us on a journey through the reaction to the breaking of that sanctity when somebody puts their heart before their head. Or, is it a look at the mental and physical collapse living in a society dominated by that pressure applies to you? I just don’t know.

Throughout, I couldn’t help but feel that Knightley is just too fragile and weak in physical appearance to really convince when depth and strength required. There is no question, that when it comes to bringing the upper classes to life, especially in period, Knightley is second to virtually none. But when you team that up with a self destruction and mental torment she has to take us through, her slight and petit frame just doesn’t allow her to convincingly take us forward.

It would be like Tom Hanks arriving on the island in Castaway as the stick thin, starved man he ends up as. It just wouldn’t work.

There is also an overriding sense to me that this film feels too English. It’s set in Russia, with Russian characters, Russian society and yet the characters just bring their Englishness to the forefront just a little bit too much. This results in the period becoming muddled as you occasionally forget that you’re watching Mr Vasilley and not Mr Darcy.

That doesn’t mean this film doesn’t have good bits. I found myself completely captured by the side story of the simmering, growing relationship and love between Kitty and Levin. Alicia Vikander (Kitty) and Domhnall Gleeson (Levin) absolutely steal the show for me. I almost wished that it wasn’t just the side story, the foil, to show the how love can develop in one way while being capable of destroying in another, but rather the main piece. There just aren’t enough good bits, enough screen time, in my opinion, to justify that main story.

6 out of 10 stars (6 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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