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on June 10, 2001
This is a stunning, not-stuffy-at-all adaptation of Tolstoy's seminal work. The casting is excellent and the script is true to the story line. Anna is particularly well-cast. She's passionate, loved by men and women alike, smart and compelling to watch. The two men in Anna's life are well cast, as well. Anna's husband's character is portrayed with all of the depth that he has in the book, which is an impressive feat. The man who plays Vronsky was a perfect choice even if he is blond and in the book he is dark.
The Kitty/Konstantin parallel plot is very well done, and both characters are also very well cast. In the book, Kitty has more depth than is portrayed, but she is beautiful and charming here nonetheless.
They don't rush the plot. It is presented thoughtfully which does Tolstoy's masterpiece the due it deserves. Watch this over several nights if you want. You'll think about it all day, every day until you're done watching the whole thing.
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on October 29, 2001
I read the book many years ago, so I was very much looking forward to the PBS version. I was not at all disappointed. The cast was outstanding, especially, in my opinion that of Vronsky. Kevin McKidd played him with such touching depth and sensitivity, it left me breathless. Helen McCrory is also excellent as Anna, as was the character of Karenin. I am glad this version chose to give Karenin much more complexity and create him as a more sympathetic character than some of the other versions. This movie did an outstanding job of weaving the plot all together and coming to the final tragic conclusion. It left me spell-bound the whole way through. I can't imagine anyone coming away from viewing it and not be affected somehow for a long time. It is so relevant to today- just one of the greatest stories of all time. Simply wonderful.
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on October 15, 2005
This version of Anna Karenina is so good. It's true to the book without all of Karenin's business dealings (which were rather dull in the book). Love the story, so compelling, so tragic and so passionate...ah...Excellent movie, amazing story.
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on July 31, 2006
This is an excellent adaptation of Anna Karenina. Brilliantly casted, with Helen McCrory as Anna and Kevin McKidd as Vronsky. McKidd has a sort of Russian look about him, though I can't exactly describe it. McCrory's animated deep-set eyes look more and more tired and hopeless by the end of the movie. A near perfect Anna in all her moods and actions. And her laugh is the kind that sticks in your head afterwards, and sometimes you miss hearing it.

It must be hard to condense such a mammoth novel, but this adaptation succeeded in bringing together most of the central points of the book (much more so than the wretched version with Sean Bean and some french actress, which was far too short and left out critical scenes).

Every time I hear Chopin's "Waltz in C# Minor," I think of the ball scene in which Anna is ostracized and Vronsky accepted. Sadly, this double standard is still in place today.
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on October 23, 2004
This miniseries is FANTASTIC! And I am SO happy it is finally getting it's DVD release here in the U.S.! The story centers around Anna and her shameful affair with Count Vronsky. This miniseries actually tells the full novel in depth, other than the 1997 theatricle release starring Sean Bean. Also, the Anna in this version is much more beautiful than in the theatricle release. So, buy it, and you will not be dissappointed!
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on October 10, 2010
I first fell in love with Tolstoy's masterpiece at age 16 and have reread it many times since; it is my favorite book. After watching both this film and the 1977 Nicola Pagett version, and comparing the various shortcomings of each, I am convinced that the work cannot be adequately translated into film. No mere actress can bring to life the exquisite, fascinating perfection of Tolstoy's Anna; no actor can be as noble, authentic, and lovable as Levin. These are two of the truest characters in the history of literature, and you must read the book to meet them (as well as Vronsky and Kitty) in all of their marvelous complexity. You can only know them fully through the mind of Tolstoy.

Of the two, the 1977 film is much more faithful to the book; it is ten hours long and includes all the most important scenes. The characters, though lacking in depth, are at least consistent with Tolstoy's original. The screenwriters of this four-hour version, however, took inexcusable liberties with both Levin and Vronsky, conjuring up scenes that could never have happened, scenes that undermined the noble, dignified character of these two men. The shorter film is superior only in its cinematography.

Though both films were enjoyable to watch, they do not have what makes this story great:Tolstoy's genius. Read the masterpiece, even if it takes you weeks or months!
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on January 26, 2006
Helen McCrory literally embodied the role of the ill-fated Anna Karenina in this production. Her journey from the pinnacle of High Russian society to the depths of despair as an outcast was captured by Ms. McCrory exceptionally well.

Stephen Dillane and Kevin McKidd also expertly deliver, playing Alexei Karenin and Alexei, the Count Vronsky, respectively. Dillane's portrayal of the icy, unfeeling Karenin was superb; even more so was McKidd's steamy, passionate reading of the enamoured Vronsky.

I was also well pleased with the performances of dear old, always-in-period-pieces Amanda Root, and familiar faces with Paul Rhys and Paloma Baeza, all delivering excellent performances.

However, the role of Levin (Kitty's eventual husband), played by Douglas Henshall, worked my last Tolstoy-loving nerve. Actually, I was relatively unimpressed with the fact that the entire cast, while portraying Russian nobility and speaking about journeying to St. Petersburg and Moscow, spoke with upper-crust British accents. I believe well-developed Russian, or at least SOME version of Eastern-European, accents for the cast would have heightened the atmosphere of the Russian background in which the story is set. Mr. Henshall's ridiculously thick Scottish brogue -- dripping moss-covered syllables as he mumbles on about rubles and vodka and the czar (?!?!) -- simply defied both logic and validity.

I think his role could have been much better cast.

Overwhelmingly, however, "Anna" remained very true to the novel, and I think, despite his undoubted confusion over the accents of the actors, Mr. Tolstoy himself would consider this adaptation a credit to the world were he able to view it for himself.
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on December 3, 2007
Helen McCrory did an exceptional job in capturing the majesty and the desperation of Anna Karenina. The "vaults" of Tolstoy joined two characters Levin and Anna in their unbridled passion for life with much different end results and paths. I cannot imagine anyone else capturing more the essence of Tolstoy's major female protagonist than Helen McCrory did.

Stephen Dillane did a fabulous job in the role of Alexei Karenin and Kevin McKidd perfected the character of Count Vronsky . I think that Stephen Dillane's interpretation of Alexei was so superb that it surprised me; and I gained such a depth of understanding for this character because of his portrayal; much more than in reading the novel which I loved.

At first, I wavered because I did not feel that Oblonsky was cast properly; but despite the difference in appearance; this role was executed perfectly. I cannot understand how Douglas Henshall was cast as Levin with his thick Scottish brogue but even that was overlooked as you got more and more into the story.

The acting was that good. I would recommend this highly. This gripped me from beginning to end. And after seeing how Anna was treated during the ballroom scene at Betsy's, you understand the double standard that existed then and in some ways is still with us today.

For such a long novel, this rendition was perfectly paced and executed brilliantly. Very enjoyable. You will not regret taking the time to watch this series. Masterpiece Theater did a magnificent job.

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on September 5, 2012
No matter how faithful a film is to the book it's based on, one crucial element will always go begging: the words with which it's written. A great novel is as much a triumph of language as it is of plot, character, dialogue and setting; but while these elements lend themselves to visualization, the grace and elegance of the writing do not. Remove the style and what remains would be like an opera without the music. The essence of the novel gets lost in transition to any other medium.

So in setting about to watch an adaptation of a great novel, one should first take up the book and, following Scottish philosopher David Hume's advice "commit it to the flames." Otherwise it will haunt you throughout the entire film because you'll find yourself attempting the impossible task of comparing the two.

If you then add in the Platonic view that a work of art is a copy of a copy, then a work in translation becomes a copy of a copy of a copy, and a film becomes - well, it's enough to make your head spin. See why it's so much easier to just take the film on its own merits? And this Masterpiece Theatre production of "Anna Karenina" has sufficient merits to be considered a great film.

It captures the soul of a particular time and place with great economy and considerable subtlety, rendering the events surrounding Anna's love affair with Count Vronsky and the inevitable consequences of that affair plus parallel stories of other characters' romantic endeavors in just under four hours. Its somber tone and undercurrent of impending doom follows Anna like a doppelganger from her very first appearance, even stalking her amidst the lively, sumptuous balls she attends, like a dark cloud hanging over her every activity.

If acting is bringing a character to life, then Helen McCrory's performance as Anna Karenina is nothing less than superb. It's clear from her very first appearance that Ms McCrory the actress is slightly older and slightly less beautiful than the character. Yet when she comes alive at the Ball, in Count Vronsky's company, she transcends her own physical presence to become a stunningly beautiful woman. This degree of acting goes well beyond walking, talking, emoting and being made-up for the role, to the level of actually being the character. Helen McCroy's artistry makes it clear that Anna's eventual decline proceeds from something deep within her which her affair with Count Vronsky merely precipitates but doesn't create; her Anna Karenina is destined for destruction whether she ever meets Vronsky or not.

Kevin McKidd may seem a bit wooden as Count Vronsky - but is that an acting flaw or a truer rendition of the character? Given Vronsky's upbringing by the cold, calculating social climber Countess Vronskaya would he not have effected a cold, indifferent facade, that even in the throes of great emotion still manages to conceal his deeper self? And though we're not given much detail of Konstantin Levin's upbringing, his fluid, open facade - especially as effected by Douglas Henshall - offers the perfect contrast to Vronsky's exterior, just as his sense of life perfectly contrasts Vronsky's. But it's Stephen Dillane's rendition of Prince Alexei Karenin, Anna's husband, that gives the finishing touch to everything that happens. He's neither uncaring nor unfeeling, though he's made to become indifferent to his wife's plight through the machinations of the truly sinister Countess Lidia Ivanova, who manages to drive a wedge between not only husband and wife but mother and son as well.

It's important to bear in mind not merely the period Tolstoy was writing about but the period in which he was writing. There are pronounced themes throughout European literature of the late Victorian era - such as the troubling search for honesty as a counterweight to the deep hypocrisy of the period - which infuse the works of Chekhov, Ibsen, Hardy, Flaubert and others as well as the works of Tolstoy. Which begs the question: would a real Anna Karenina of the period Tolstoy was writing about have endured the same fate as his heroine by discarding all the hypocritical trappings which a more worldly woman, such as Princess Betsy, surrounded herself with - or was this trait Tolstoy gave Anna a product of his thinking at the time he wrote the book and totally alien to an actual woman of that earlier period? Not that it makes any difference as far as the film goes; but it does give pause for thought about the central character of the book upon which the film is based.
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on September 11, 2004
A fairly pedestrian tread through the novel, concentrating on the relationships of the three couples and sensibly skirting most of the languorous stuff concerning Levin's spiritual and political vacillations.

Structurally strong, it's disappointing in the detail. While the emphasis on interiors is understandable considering the massive cost of a four hour period drama, there's still a degree of sloppiness in the production that should have been avoidable.

For a start, several of the key parts are miscast (Levin, for example, is reduced to some kind of Glaswegian dolt) and matters are not helped by a persistent gracelessness in the direction. The one token line of French is delivered with a schoolboy irony. There's too much This Life-style photography and editing. The camera has an irritating habit of dollying back and forth around two people talking. And the predictable sexy goings-on include an eye-widening dramatic licence for Kitty's wedding night.

The whole thing feels like it was made according to a stringent schedule rather than any artistic vision; and, of course, it almost certainly was. But the real tragedy is that most of the major dramatic scenes never really fly, and in the end it all feels like one huge missed opportunity. A shame, because there are good things in here too, especially a nice turn from Stephen Dillane as Karenin.

As an aide-memoir for those who have read the novel, this is efficient and, for better or worse, pretty unadventurous. But as an alternative to tackling Tolstoy's second doorstop, it's an unrewarding experience.
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