Good-looking but no answers

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ANNA KARENINA

DIRECTOR: Joe Wright

CAST: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Matthew Madfadyen, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly McDonald, Olivia Williams

CLASSIFICATION: 13 SV

RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes

RATING: ***

If Lincoln is a lavish production, then Anna Karenina is so sumptuous as to border on the Baroque.

Filmed mostly literally on a stage, this period piece creates a hyper-stylised world, both visually and figuratively. Art direction, cinematography and costumes are opulent and rich in colour and detail, and the film is a triumph of style over substance.

The star-studded cast act out sequences on a stage and walk through backstage to the outside, with some intricate filming in other sequences when stage scenery gets changed around actors mid-sentence.

Based on Leo Tolstoy’s epic love story, the film goes into overdrive on the crafted effect to show how the characters were living their lives as if they were constantly being watched, but it loses the human element in the process.

The story is centred on the experiences of Russian socialite Anna Karenina (Knightley) who leaves her older saint of a husband (Law, almost unrecognisable behind beard and glasses) for her younger lover, but becomes increasingly ostracised from society and paranoid about her future.

While the story (at least the book story) may delve into themes like jealousy, hypocrisy, family, fidelity, marriage and passion, the film is heavy on detail of action and light on the whys and wherefores.

Anna imitates her brother Stefan Oblonsky (MacFadyen) by having an affair, but she breaks the rules of society and is snubbed in the process. Initially, on the face of it Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson) is quite the catch – rich, handsome and more Anna’s peer in age and interests – but their public flaunting of the affair is contrary to how she is expected to behave and it is clear things are going to end in tears.

The best part of the film is the sequences with Levin (Gleeson) and Kitty (Alicia Vikander), which take place outside of the theatrically framed St Petersburg and Moscow sequences.

Levin successfully pursues Kitty and eventually brings his new bride home, but it is in his interaction with the people around him that we get a bit of the socio-politics of the time. His relationship with his older brother brings in some of the arguments people were having in late 19th century in Russia about peasants in society, education reform and women’s rights.

Playing the main character, Knightley doesn’t get to do more than waft around in gorgeous costumes, pouting her way through her lines, because she never gets to delve into why her character follows the route she does, despite every second sentence being an affirmation of how good life with her husband is and how much she loves her son.

Why, then, leave it all for Vronsky? This film will not give you the answer. Looks good in the telling, though.

If you liked… A Dangerous Method or Vanity Fair… you will like this.

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