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Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina: Famous Love Story Drowns in Shortcomings

  • Aaron Taylor-JohnsonJude Law...
  • Drama
  • Joe Wright
reviewed by
Marija Loncarevic
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Anna Karenina: Famous Love Story Drowns in Shortcomings
Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, considered Anna Karenina to be his first true novel.  Praised by many and widely regarded as a pinnacle in realistic fiction, Anna Karenina was declared to be “the greatest novel ever written” by Time magazine back in 2007.  A total of twelve film adaptations have been done in the past, including a 1985 TV version starring Christopher Reeve.  Now, for the thirteenth time, one of the most romantic stories ever written has a chance to shine again.   

Director Joe Wright, working from a screenplay by the award-winning screenwriter Tom Stoppard, succeeds in capturing Tolstoy’s magic, visually.  However, one too many slip-ups with how the story is told overshadows the entire experience. 

The story takes place in Imperial Russia during the 1870s. Anna Karenina (Knightley) is a young mother and an aristocratic socialite who is married to an uptight and stern-looking government worker, Karenin (Law).  She heads for Moscow, leaving the comfort of her palatial home in St. Petersburg behind, in order to smooth things over between her brother Stiva (MacFadyen) and his pregnant wife Dolly (MacDonald) – who has recently learned that Stiva has cheated on her with their governess. While he awaits his wife’s pardon for his indiscretions, Stiva busies himself with other people’s love lives.  He encourages a relationship between Levin (Gleeson), a farmer and a close family friend, and his sister-in-law Kitty (Vikander).  

Anna’s journey to Moscow is not lost in vain, as this is where she meets the handsome and haughty officer, Count Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson). The spoiled and slightly annoying count, who is used to getting what he wants, immediately becomes attracted to young Anna after a brief encounter on the train. He decides he must have her and Anna fails to show any resistance. This opens up the story further, eventually leads to misery and remorse.

On the outside, Anna Karenina looks really good.  Every scene is filled with colour and glamour. The production definitely brings plenty of ‘wow’ moments and with the costume design, director Joe Wright really steps it up.  This feature’s twist and more modern outlook comes in a stage-like set up;  complete with catwalks, scenic flats and a large variety of colourful backdrops.  It definitely takes some time getting used to and for the most part, it really works. 

Unfortunately, though, there are a lot of scenes where this new approach doesn’t do the story justice.  It feels more like a musical, with no music; the audience is perked at the edge of their seats waiting for that moment when someone will burst into a song.

Knightley, Wright’s returning muse, tries a little too hard. Sure, she looks stunning even though her smiling abilities came off a little scary.  Sadly, as the title character, she doesn’t earn any likability or sympathy.  Knightley has trouble grounding herself; she is ridiculously happy one minute, then in tears the next.  What she wants and needs is unclear and she comes off as ridiculously spoiled.  As the man who steals Anna’s heart, Johnson is a complete misfit.  He doesn’t have the talk or the walk one would expect from Count Vronsky; his presence is unnoticed and a little juvenile. 

As the scorned husband, Law gives it his all.  A patient and a loving man, who keeps a very tight lid on his emotions, and who cracks his knuckles in order to get his point across, Law’s character is the only one the audience can sympathise with.  His quiet suffering is loud and his performance definitely does not go unnoticed.  As lovers, whose story runs parallel to Anna’s and Vronsky’s, Gleeson and Vikander do a wonderful job. As for the rest of the cast, everything like the film itself, feels overly staged.    


On the whole, Anna Karenina is interesting but lacks connection. Once you look past the stylish extravagance, you will notice that the tale is in some serious need of passion and cohesiveness.     

Like This? Try

Atonement (2007), Pride & Prejudice (2005), The Duchess (2008)

360 Tip

Joe Wright briefly considered having the actors use Russian accents, but later decided against it, thinking it would be hard for him to assess their performances.

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