Anna Karenina

January 25, 2013

I started a long flight to Singapore via Tokyo yesterday, an odd routing necessitated by the need to use air miles as there was no client funding.  I thought the upside would be the first class seat in BA to Narita which it was in a way, with only three other passengers you couldn't fault the level of service.  My problem was the same as with BA in Club, they only allow you to one thing at a time, so you can't watch a movie and use your computer.  Not if you want to see more than the top third of the screen that is.  It was OK for the first couple of hours as that is allocated to the meal that always comes after take off and the obligatory G&T.  So I normally choose a serious movie for that period.

I'd been looking forward to Anna Karenina both for Joe Wright's direction and more especially for Tom Stoppard's screen play, but the negative reviews had put me off.  I wish now I had ignored them as I would have liked to see what is an excellent and faithful commentary on one aspect of a complex novel.  The first dance between Vronsky and Anna where Kitty looses all hope reaches a level of intensity beyond the book itself.  Jude Law makes Karenin into a much richer character that Tolstoy and placing the film into a opera house where the characters flow in and out of a performance and reality.   The film does not (thank God) attempt to replicate Levin's tortuous reflections on life the universe and everything that lead him to faith.  instead in concentrates on one dominant theme in the book, namely that of love.  There is simply too much to make a film of this, one of the greatest novels of all time.   The BBC made a passable 10 part adaption back in 1977 which more or less faithfully represented the story but in two hours you can't do the whole thing, so you have to choose.  There is a 1961 adaption as well starting Sean Connery before he took on the Bond role which I have not seen, but the DVD is on its way to me for my return home.

In this respect I disagree with several critics who say that Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky is more cuddly than studly allbeit a very clever line!  The whole point is that Vronsky falls passionately in love with Anna, but then preserves the relationship through honour.  In the famous opera scene (reflected in the staging of the film) for Anna to go is a disgrace, for Vronsky it means nothing.  Anna has given up all, and finally surrenders to suicide.  Vronsky can always, and does, return to the regiment and can marry again.  The contrast between the two lovers is an essential feature of the book and is well portrayed in the film.  Knightly manages the controlled descent from loving mother to despairing suicide with great skill.  The film allows imagery to reflect Levin's journey, although you really have to have read the book to get it.  It also allows a much better linkage between the fateful death under the rails that greets Anna's first meeting with Vronsky and her own departure.

In essence the film is a commentary on the book rather than a representation.  As such if you know the book well it has more value than if you come to it fresh.  Rather like opera, as you become familiar with a work you crave a new interpretation.  This film provides that.

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