Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The First 30 Minutes of Anna Karenina - A Review

I don’t go to the cinema much anymore.   The reason for this is two-fold. 

Firstly, I find that most movies coming out of Hollywood these days tend to have quite a limited target market, of which I am emphatically not a member (nor, it seems, is anyone other than teenage males with violent sociopathic tendencies).

Secondly, the older I get, the more misanthropic I become - and therefore less enthusiastic about the prospect of spending two hours of my dwindling life penned up in a dark, uncomfortable, claustrophobic room with OTHER PEOPLE.

However, every once in a while, a movie comes along which simply cannot wait to be viewed on Sky Box Office.  And if there was ever a film to force me off the sofa and into the movie theatre, it was Anna Karenina, the new blockbuster adaptation of Tolstoy’s epic novel of the same name. 

Directed by Joe Wright (whose previous credits include Atonement and Pride and Prejudice), and with a screenplay written by Tom Stoppard, this is a movie that promised much.  Add to this an all-star cast - which includes Keira Knightley as the eponymous heroine, Jude Law as her cuckolded husband, and the up-and-coming Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the dastardly Count Vronsky – and one would be forgiven for thinking that this would be the movie event of 2012.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, quite a lot, actually…

Alarm bells were ringing from the outset.  Fully expecting to be dazzled by fabulous location shots of Moscow and St Petersburg, I was rather puzzled when the opening sequences instead showed a rather grungy theatre set.  Instead of vast marble staircases, there were rickety wooden ones. Scenes that should have been set in stunning mansions took place on a stage, completed with wobbly backdrops.  Extras stumbled clumsily into scenes, as if the actors on the stage were merely rehearsing their lines, as opposed to being filmed. 

Some reviewers have praised this theatrical approach, which no doubt saved the producers a fortune in location costs, and which will probably earn innumerable technical gongs come awards season. I, however, found it only succeeded in making the film visually confusing, not least because these rather dodgy sets were combined with some breathtakingly magnificent costumes, as well as some ‘normal’ outdoor scenes.

Macfayden as Oblonsky
And I wasn’t the only one confused – so, I believe, were the actors.  With the exception of Jude Law, the other main players seemed to forget they were making a film, and instead performed in that over-emphasising way common the stage actors.  Movements were exaggerated, and voices were raised as if they were trying to be heard in the nose-bleed seats of a Shaftesbury Avenue theatre.  Matthew Macfayden, in particular, was guilty of this – his court-jester type portrayal of Oblonsky, a serious character in the novel, verged on the ridiculous.

But for all my misgivings, I was still prepared to stick it out.  Surely, it could only get better.  But then, some 30 minutes in, after another absurd Oblonsky scene, my husband (who has never read Tolstoy) leaned across and whispered “I didn’t realise Anna Karenina was a comedy”.  Anna Karenina, one of the masterpieces of 19th century Russian literature, a comedy?  That was it – we were outta there.

So there you have it - my review of the first thirty minutes of Anna Karenina. Maybe the movie improved in the hour-and-thirty-minutes I missed – but I doubt.

The short version: A very Baz Luhrmann-like production, except Luhrmann would probably have pulled it off.  Tolstoy purists will hate it.  Flouncy frock lovers and theatre luvvies will simply adore it, daaahling. 


  1. Thanks for bravely testing the water... I've always loved the book and feared the worst of a(nother) film. If only people could lose their fear of committing to reading long novels. But that doesn't excuse messing with a classic tragedy. Anyway, I can't stand Knightly, and Law is almost as bad. I'm probably more misanthropic than you!

  2. Stick with the Greta Garbo version! As soon as I saw a pic of the new Anna and Count Vronsky I thought it was going to be terrible. I will wait until it is on cable.