Anna Karenina – Review

Worth seeing: as a visually beautiful, well adapted screen version Tolstoy's classic novel
Director:Joe Wright
Featuring:Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Jude Law, Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen, Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Emily Watson, Holliday Grainger, Kelly Macdonald, Olivia Williams, Ruth Wilson
Length:130 minutes
Country:France, UK
Released:7th September 2012


In late 19th century Russia, Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) is trapped in a loveless marriage to one of the governing elite, Alexei (Jude Law).

On a visit to her brother Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen), to help him with his own marital difficulties, she encounters a dashing young army officer, Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

He’s also meant to be attached, to Oblonsky’s sister-in-law, but a passion erupts between the pair that soon they can’t resist.

Aware that his reputation is at stake, Alexei agrees to let Anna keep her status as long as she promises not to see Vronsky again, but she’s prepared to risk everything for true love.


This latest screen adaptation of Tolstoy’s tragic drama sees director Joe Wright reunited with Keira Knightley after Pride & Prejudice and Atonement. The pair are clearly strangers to neither period dramas nor literary adaptations, but this time around, Wright manages to deliver something that looks altogether new.

As the film opens, it’s clear that we’re looking at a stage in a theatre – a stage that’s frequently revisited throughout the production, each time featuring different sets. The characters glide around the stage as sets are changed around them and from time to time, the action even unfolds in the stalls, with the seats removed.

Only occasionally does the narrative venture outside into Russia’s desolate snow-covered wilderness.

With the staging of the film being so theatrical, it’s not surprising that many of the performances feel less cinematic than they might have done in other circumstances.

Tom Stoppard’s script does a remarkable job of squeezing Tolstoy’s tome into a little over two hours – and whatever might be missing, what’s left makes sense.

But while visually engaging, the film’s spectacular but unorthodox delivery makes it more of a challenge for the audience to be truly engaged emotionally. In this sense, it feels as cold as the Russian snow.

The film is highly likely to feature among the awards nominations in the new year, but the best work is from the production designers, costumiers, Wright and Stoppard – but the performances, while adequate, are less worthy of attention; there’s little chemistry between Knightley and the newly double-barrelled Taylor-Johnson and apart from a flamboyantly comic turn from Matthew Macfadyen, the other actors don’t have enough to do to shine.