Knightley a ‘screen goddess’ in Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina

Sep 7, 2012

Film is dazzling and Knightley is ‘achingly elegant’ but is there more style than substance?

What you need to know
Director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice) has made a new film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s tragic 1877 romance novel Anna Karenina with a script by Sir Tom Stoppard.

Set in 19th Century Russian high society, Anna Karenina recounts the story of a young aristocratic woman’s adulterous affair with the wealthy Count Vronsky, and her subsequent fall from social grace. In this film adaptation the action takes place almost entirely within a theatre.  
Keira Knightley takes the lead role. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy, Kick-Ass) stars as Vronsky. Jude Law plays Anna’s cuckolded husband Alexei Karenin.
What the critics like
This production has real audacity, says David Gritten in The Daily Telegraph. Wright and Stoppard have “filleted and condensed this doorstep of a novel”, fashioning it into “a swirling, swoony, achingly romantic tragedy”. Stoppard’s witty theatre device, and Wright’s magical, playful use of the camera make it “dazzling to watch”.
It’s a sumptuous film, says Kate Muir in The Times. Knightley is “achingly elegant in rich furs, veils and silken gowns”. Stoppard’s script is “zappy and often funny” and “the over-the-top artifice suits the concept that the Russian aristocracy played out their lives on high society’s stage”.
Films don’t come more glamorous than this, says Chris Tookey in the Daily Mail. Tolstoy’s romantic tragedy has been filmed many times before, “but it has never looked lovelier". Nor has Anna. Wright turns Knightley into a screen goddess and Law is excellent.
What they don’t like
By setting the story in a theatre, Wright and Stoppard’s bold adaptation “sacrifices the novel's poignancy for creative flair”, says Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. The film skates over significant characters and events, “so the story loses some of its perspective and its flavour”. And Taylor-Johnson, though an attractive Vronsky, is “out of his depth” in the role.

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