“All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love.” ~ Leo Tolstoy
This week, I went with my dear friend Diana to see “Anna Karenina.” It’s one of her favorite books by Leo Tolstoy. Admittedly, I’ve never read the book, though Tolstoy’s gift as a writer is something I should probably examine at some point. Nevertheless, I am a huge fan of films, particularly period pieces. I’m also a fan of Joe Wright, who directed the film, and had previously directed Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightly in the 2005 version of “Pride and Prejudice,” a particular favorite. In “Anna Karenina,” Macfadyen and Knightly play brother and sister, she with the starring role as Anna, he as Oblonsky. Dashing Jude Law plays Karenin, her husband. But ladies, don’t get too excited: Wright has played down Law’s good looks in this romantic tragedy.
Keira Knightly is always stunning, and I find her acting totally believable. Law is perfect as the husband, but it’s Macfadyen who steals the show as Oblonsky. Typically the somewhat stoic character, often straight-laced in such films as “Death at a Funeral,” “Pride and Prejudice,” and in the mini-series “Pillars of the Earth,” it was good to see Macfadyen let go a little and have some fun with his character.
What distracts from the film, however, is the use of a “stage” to help tell the story, as if you are watching a play. In some parts, you’ll see the actor on the stage, and then the camera pans and you are with the characters in the scene. For someone who did not know the plot of the story, I found this very distracting. I appreciate Wright’s cinematic directing talent—and his guts to try something artsy (I found the cinematography in “Pride and Prejudice” to be stellar and lovely)—but in this film it fell a little flat. Seeing the actors on an old-fashioned stage, and then moving into scene, left me feeling disconnected from the story, and the characters.
This is not to say I am steering you from seeing it. By all means, get swept away into this period in time when women couldn’t divorce, and if they had an affair, they were ostracized from society. Plus, you may want to see it just for the beauty of what Wright puts on film. The scenery—and especially the costumes, designed by Jacqueline Durran—are gorgeous.
But this Hopeless Romantic likes a happy ending, and Tolstoy refused to let it be that way.