Anna Karenina is a story of love, betrayal, and morality set in the 1870’s in Russian aristocratic society. For his film adaption Joe Wright uses an old theatre as the setting for this epic tale. Throughout the entire film you are aware that the characters are performing the roles they must play in order to fit into the society they live in. The main character, Anna (Kiera Knightly), performs the ultimate betrayal when she steps out of her role as complacent wife to successful politician Aleksei (Jude Law) and begins a passionate affair with a young officer named Vronksy (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Anna Karenina also follows the story of Levin, (Domhnall Gleeson) a young landowner who searches for the true meaning of life while languishing with love for young Kitty (Alicia Vikander). Tolstoy’s original novel is long and dense, full of side plots and countless characters with long Russian names. The screen writer, Tom Stoppard, did a fine job simplifying the plot, without loosing the essence of the novel. If there was any confusion about the plot it was because of the complicated system of Russian names and nicknames.
Kiera Knightly is perfection as Anna. She embodies Anna’s charm and grace as well as her irrationality. The devastatingly handsome Jude Law is perfectly transformed into the unattractive older husband. Matthew Macfadyen delivered one of the most surprising performances of the film as Anna’s philandering brother Stiva. Macfadyen’s performance provides a much needed comedic relief that may surprise viewers familiar with his stoic performance as Mr. Darcy in Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice. Aaron Taylor-Johnson did his best as the charming Vronksy but he didn’t quite get there. Maybe it was the combination of frizzy blond hair and dark mustache that made him less believable as the attractive Vronsky. Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander are lovable as Levin and Kitty. Their characters bring many warmhearted moments to the film that keep it from becoming too depressing.
The costumes in this film are, of course, to die for. Anna’s gowns steal the show with graceful drapery and decadent but subtle embellishment. Jacqueline Durran worked with Joe Wright on his first period dramas, Pride & Prejudice and Atonement. She has truly mastered the art of creating period costumes with a modern sensibility. The production design is beautiful and the cinematography is gorgeous. Joe Wright and his visual team create an entrancing world that becomes the perfect setting for the dramas of Russian high society to play out.