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Anna Karenina ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

There have been many film versions of Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anne Karenina, most notably the 1935 (Greta Garbo) and 1948 (Vivien Leigh) versions. There was also a big-screen 1997 version and several adaptations for TV, including the memorable twelve-part Masterpiece Theatre adaptation in the 1970s. It’s an accessible story with fascinating characters that lends itself well to filmic adaptation. In 1870s Imperial Russia, aristocratic Anna is married to stodgy government official Karenin. Karenin is a “good” man who follows the rules; he believes a wife is a wife for life. Anna meets young cavalry officer Count Vronsky and the earth moves for her and for him. She engages in an adulterous affair with him, has his child, leaves her husband, and in the course of all this shocks St. Petersburg society. The story is simple and almost operatic in its themes of love, duty, honor, obsession.

The latest 2012 film version is true to Tolstoy’s original story but is different from every other film version that has gone before. It has all the traditional elements of a big-budget costume drama (elaborate sets and costumes, stirring music, beautiful photography), but it has something more: it takes a deliberately “stagey” approach to the story. It is, at times, as if we’re watching a play. At the end of a scene, the actors will walk from one set to another or walk backstage to get to where they need to be for their next piece of business. We see stagehands changing the scenery and, at times, it’s as if we’re observing the action taking place on a stage from the audience. Since Anna Karenina is a novel and not a play, this is a highly stylized approach and it works beautifully. It must be seen to be appreciated.

Copyright © 2012 by Allen Kopp

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