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A woman risks everything to follow her heart in this stunning adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's powerful tale of love, marriage, and betrayal in imperial Russia. Helen McCrory stars as literature's most tragic adulteress, with Kevin McKidd as her lover, the dashing Count Vronsky, and Stephen Dillane as her cold-hearted husband.
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It is a difficult task to present Tolstoy's epic work in a few hours. The characters are three-dimensional and brought to life from the book into this film. The characters are believable. They are not stereotypes of Tolstoy's characters. They are the same characters you would bring to life in your imagination from reading the book.
Helen McCrory does an exceptional job of performing a difficult character. She portrays a woman of strength and passion. She is very seductive, yet portrays a woman who is the pinnacle of nineteenth century morals and character. Until she meets Count Vronsky.
Vronsky is well-portrayed by Kevin McKidd (Rome: The Complete Series). McKidd is a Shakespearean actor who has a presence, on the screen, for portraying military figures. He is very convincing in this role as an ambitious young cavalry officer in pursuit of Anna.
One of the most delightful vignettes in this version is the portrayal of Konstantin and Kitty. The screenwriter, the director, and the actor did an superb job of brining Konstantin to life. He is a landed aristocrat, yet, the kind of guy who would have a beer with you, and, let's his dog sleep on the bed. Kitty is portrayed by the emminently lovely and graceful Paloma Baeza. Far From the Madding Crowd [VHS]; The Way We Live Now). She is sweet and you can't help but smile when she finally agrees to marry Konstantin. Their bethrothal is one of the most romantic and tender moments I have seen in film.
This may not be a definitive film of Tolstoy's great work. It is, however, a wonderful introduction to the work, and, very pleasing to watch.
The first time through I was swept up in the primary story of the lovers. Anna's passionless marriage to Alexei leads her to fall hard and fast for the romantic, sweet-talking Count Vronsky. But on a second viewing (no less than two days later, I just could not stay away from it!) my attention was diverted by Levin's romance with Kitty. It is a film that is almost too much to take in all at once, because it is so deep and complex in its emotions. One thing I appreciated was that none of the characters are one-dimensional. Anna is deeply emotional and following her heart causes her to self-destruct. Alexei Karenin by contrast is restrained to the point of seeming cold, but it is evident from a perfectly nuanced performance that he ISN'T cold, and he DOES care, he just hides most of his emotions beneath the surface.
Admittedly, I do not much care for the casting of the main lovers, but the rest of the extended cast are brilliant, particularly Stephen Dillane as Alexei. In the span of a handful of scenes, I came around to liking him much more than the "passionate lover," Vronsky. One of the finest moments comes at Anna's sickbed, when husband and lover are both in attendance. The beautiful writing and tremendous performances -- calm detachment from Alexei, and passionate grief from Vronsky -- make it mesmerizing.
I also appreciate that in spite of "sexing up" the adulterous aspect, the film refrains from being too explicit. What seems to be important here is motivations and emotions rather than purely physical connections, which makes it unlike many other stories in the genre. Minus a minor flub over the Russian Church performing a marriage ceremony in Latin, it is in all respects "almost perfect."
How do I know? Because when my library copy became due, I went online and purchased a copy, because I cannot live without it. It's that good.
My husband liked this version somewhat better than the 2012, though he did agree about the casting. When the main character is off, it throws the whole thing off. I loved the 2012 version with all its uniqueness, and Jude Law as Karenin was absolutely genius.
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