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Academy Award nominee Keira Knightley, Academy Award nominee Jude Law and Aaron Taylor-Johnson dazzle in this stunning new vision of Leo Tolstoy's epic love story. At the twilight of an empire, Anna Karenina (Knightley), the beautiful high-ranking wife of one of imperial Russia's most esteemed men (Law), has it all. But when she meets the dashing cavalry officer Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson), there is a mutual spark of instant attraction that cannot be ignored. She's immediately swept up in a passionate affair that will shock a nation and change the lives of everyone around her. From acclaimed director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) and Academy Award-winning writer Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love) comes this visually enchanting masterpiece hailed by critics as "ecstatic" (Time), "rapturous" (MSN Movies) and "a spectacle that has to be seen to be believed!" (The Huffington Post)
By filming Leo Tolstoy's timeless novel as a series of theater pieces that play out across stages and catwalks, Joe Wright extracts Anna Karenina from the dusty pages of history. In her third collaboration with the filmmaker, Keira Knightley portrays the St. Petersburg aristocrat as a woman who loves her son, Sergei, more than her husband, Alexei Karenin (Jude Law). On a trip to Moscow, she meets Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), whose Snidely Whiplash mustache spells trouble, even as his sky-blue eyes prove impossible to resist. Wright contrasts their passionate union with the less cataclysmic concerns of Anna's sister-in-law, Dolly (Boardwalk Empire's Kelly Macdonald), whose capacity for forgiveness puts Alexei to shame, and Levin (Harry Potter's Domhnall Gleeson), who never gives up on Dolly's sister, Kitty (Alicia Vikander), even after she rejects him in hopes of a more glamorous future. When the affair between Anna and Vronsky becomes public, Tolstoy's antiheroine risks losing everything, but as readers know: she just can't help herself. Though Shakespeare in Love screenwriter Tom Stoppard ties together a colorful galaxy of characters who orbit around the photogenic central couple, the secondary performers provide the more deeply grounded performances, particularly Law and Gleeson. And for all the stylized, Douglas Sirk-inspired melodrama, Knightley's Pride & Prejudice costar, Matthew Macfadyen, who plays Dolly's wayward husband, lightens the mood whenever he utters one of his clever quips. If it isn't completely successful, Wright's reinvention is frequently quite dazzling--much like the genuine Chanel diamonds that illuminate Knightley's porcelain complexion. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
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So please for the love of everything, let go, and watch this incredible piece of artwork because that is what it is - moving art. It is lush, it is powerful, and it is oh so beautiful. It is a long novel, very detailed, so unless you're making it a series there is no way to cover everything. This film concentrates on Anna and Vronsky, their affair, their powerful and forbidden love. All of the other characters, though some of them main, really do end up playing second fiddle to Knightley and Taylor-Johnson. What an interesting combination, those two, I would have never considered Taylor-Johnson for this role, but he delivers. In the book, the character of Vronsky is not a hardcore, manly man, no, he is young and he is used to getting his way. Taylor-Johnson with his tousled blond hair embodies the character. Knightley of course is the queen of period films, and I love her in this role. Quite neurotic, interesting to see that considering that in the book Karenina was less so. Nonetheless, she is wonderful in this role.
The sets, wardrobe, music - incredible! You are transported to an old Russian theatre, you see the backstage, and it is a great way of portraying the life of Anna - she was always on stage due to her place in society, and she was eagerly and strongly judged by her 'friends'. A lot of work went into the settings, and they are gorgeous. The wardrobe of Anna especially is very interesting, especially for anyone who appreciates costume work and period clothing. It is a mix of late 19th century with the 1950s. An absolute treat. I wish I could wear those pieces myself. And the music!! It completes the film. I got goosebumps on my skin, tingles down my spine. Beautiful piano compositions.
This film is moving art, please watch it and appreciate it for what it is - a story of passionate love, and the emotional trial of a high society woman struggling with being constantly on 'stage.'
STUNNINGLY VISUAL ART PIECE - SET LIKE A STAGE PLAY MUSICAL - NOT FOR MANY VIEWERS
This version is not necessarily for hardcore Tolstoy fans looking for a traditional performance. It is a re-imagining of the work, taking the turmoil, the passionate dance, the poetic dialog and flinging them out again on an entirely new canvas. Knowing this first, the viewer may still enjoy, or even love this film. I did not expect this and confess I was very disappointed the first time I viewed it. I wouldn't say Tolstoy lends itself to song and dance! However, I re-read, re-watched, and I appreciate it much more. I realized that the elements of the epic are actually here. This piece is absolutely not for everyone and I am not sure even Tolstoy would approve. However, it serves a purpose and I want to be fair to those who will appreciate it for the art piece it represents. The dance is one of the most important pivot points of the story. This movie takes the dance - a waltz instead of the mazurka - and creates one of the most beautiful interpretive dance scenes I have ever seen. I would own it for that alone. I still am not a fan of the way stage sets swirl around klezmatically to transition the scenes. Or the odd way some of the extras break out into song sometimes (overall I would not call this a musical). However, I appreciate the extraordinary choreography of tumultuous emotions, visual artistry, and flat out eye candy of cinematography. I lean traditional, so this rendition is still not in my list of favorites.
BRIEF COMPARISONS TO OTHER EDITIONS with links to the product (this list is not comprehensive and I apologize if a favored version is not represented. I already watched nearly 24 hrs of video not counting research and writing!) This list is not in order of precedence and each version has merits. You can see slightly more detailed versions of my reviews like the paragraph above by going to each product page.
1977 BBC Mini Series Anna Karenina with Nicola Pagett
The Gold Standard of adaptations even after so many years. Despite the 70's BBC acting style, this version has aged well with tremendous faithfulness to the book and ideas behind it. Performances are melodramatic to today's audience, but so good they are relevant. It is still my favorite rendition. You must be up for nearly 10 hrs worth of story though.
2000 Materpiece Theater Masterpiece Classic: Anna Karenina, Part 1 with Helen McCrory and Kevin McKidd
This version is the next longest I viewed and fairly faithful to the plot and spirit of the book. The acting style is more natural (less stage play melodramatic) and the entire focus seems to be on a realistic portrayal. Lead actors less compelling than I would have liked. This version will still be some peoples' favorite. It is not mine.
1948 Anna Karenina with Vivien Leigh and Kieron Moore
Classic black and white is a different style and shouldn't be compared too critically with modern adaptations. It has the charm of a golden age of cinema. Leigh is perhaps still the most elegant Anna and Kieron Moore the most dashing Vronsky after all this time.
1997 Bernard Rose version Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina with Sophie Marceau and Sean Bean
Most visually stunning of the traditional adaptations, gorgeous cinematography and recognizable stars galore. Despite all the stars, acting is uneven and accents all over the place. Choppy story flow. Still one of my favorites!
1985 TV Movie Anna Karenina with Jacqueline Bisset and Christopher Reeve
Shortened or edited version is somewhat lifeless though the flow is less choppy than other adaptations. Badly in need of a restoration in video/sound quality and return of the lost footage not found in any copies I know of.