Thanks to my friend Julian who told me about the trailer via Twitter, I had forgotten that I was going to do a spotlight post on this film when I first picked up the novel. I still have not finished the Leo Tolstoy masterpiece, still stuck at about the halfway mark. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to finish it, it’s really quite a heavy book about Russian aristocratic society on top of the obvious tragic love story, but watching the trailer actually makes me think I shouldn’t give up on it, yet.
Before I get into the casting and overall thoughts on this adaptation, first check out the poster and the trailer below:
Firstly, let me confess that I’m not exactly sold on Keira Knightley‘s casting. The trailer doesn’t exactly change my mind. In fact, I’m already bored looking at her here, I don’t know if I can watch two hours of her being gloom and doom, suffering in the name of love.
I wasn’t sure who I’d rather see in her place, but now I think perhaps Mélanie Laurent, the French actress who was in Inglourious Basterds and most recently in Beginners. She actually look like she could be Russian and she has that melancholy yet mysterious look about her. Plus she’s not as well-known as the pouty-mouthed Keira, which would’ve made it fresher. Alas, Joe Wright apparently loves working with the English actress, this will mark his third project with Knightley after Pride & Prejudice and Atonement.
Now, the casting of Aaron Johnson piqued my interest, he’s wowed me in a couple of things he’s done, particularly as young John Lennon in Nowhere Boy. At only 22, there’s something so sensual about this young man, such virility and vigor. But there’s also restlessness and unworldliness that he seems to be able to inhabit as Vronsky, which as you know in the book would lead to the downfall of their torrid romance. Not sure he pulls off the mustache look though, I’m just not fond of it and I find it quite distracting. Funny how reading it in the book is quite different than seeing the character on screen. I almost wish Wright would take creative liberty and forgo the mustache on Vronsky, I mean he’s taking a bunch of creative license on the story anyhow.
Now on to the wronged husband Alexei Karenin. In the book he’s described as not being much to look at, so initially I was baffled at Jude Law‘s casting. I mean he’s as far away from ‘ugly’ as you can get, in fact he’s perhaps one of the most beautiful man in the world, so props for the make-up people to actually make him look unattractive enough.
Interesting to see Keira’s Mr. Darcy, Matthew MacFadyen appearing as Anna’s brother, Oblonsky. Other notable British cast include Emily Watson, Olivia Williams and up-and-comer Domhnall Gleeson (Brendan’s son) as Levin, whose story parallel Anna’s in the book.
Anna Karenina is the quintessential doomed love story. A married woman falls in love with a dashing and wealthy calvary officer and must pay the price of being shunned by society for her actions.
What I find complex about the book is the double plot, as I mentioned above, the story of Anna & Vronsky and that of Constantin Levin. Naturally the film will focus more on Anna’s crumbling marriage and infidelity, so in a way it’s a simplification but digestible version of Tolstoy’s epic Russian saga. What I love about it is the rich characters and how Tolstoy create such complex and nuanced characters, there’s no simple hero/heroine or villain. In fact, Anna is a deeply flawed protagonist, at times it’s hard for me to root for her.
As much as I admire Tolstoy’s meticulous attention to detail, I also find it frustrating and overwhelming, I mean he’d go on and on Levin’s agricultural interest, all that details about 19th century farming is over-indulgent. Especially when the first intimate encounter between the two forbidden lovers is skipped over completely. Judging from the trailer though, we’ll likely see lots of heaving bosoms, longing glances and steamy trysts in this passionate adaptation. The screenplay is written by Oscar-winner Tom Stoppard who won Best Screenplay for Shakespeare in Love.
Now this is one area this movie won’t be lacking. Even right from the opening sequence with the conductor directing a stage performance, we can expect a lush, lavish, and gorgeous movie that’ll transport us to 19th century Russia where everyone speaks with a British accent I love vintage train stations and surely there’ll be as many scenes set there as in various palatial locations.
The costume design and set pieces are beautiful to look at. Waif-looking Keira certainly wears the period costumes well and Wright knows how to light her and frame her in such a dramatic way. It reminds me a bit of Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence in terms of all that pent-up longing, and it makes heartache looks so appealing, ahah. I think Wright might give Baz Luhrmann a run for his money in the style department.
I was intrigued initially but this trailer doesn’t quite move me. I teared up every time I saw the Les Miserables trailer but not with this one, somehow Keira just leaves me cold. Even the poster with the words ‘AN EPIC STORY OF LOVE’ emblazoned under the two doomed lovers just seems so corny. Overselling it a bit? I mean, the only *epic* thing to me is the visuals. Perhaps I’m a bit fatigue from seeing all the costumed drama being released this year — The Great Gatsby, Les Miserables are also out around the Holiday season.
I do like this genre mind you, and I’m a fan of Joe Wright’s work [saves for the manipulative The Soloist], but this feels like too much style over substance, which is the same fear I have for the similarly opulent-themed Baz Luhrman movie that’s also based on a celebrated book. Granted Wright’s first two period dramas were highly acclaimed, so perhaps this one would follow in that footsteps? We shall see. But right now, I’m not sure I’d see this one on the big screen.
What say you, folks? Thoughts on this Anna Karenina adaptation, particularly on casting?