By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com November 19, 2010 at 2:22AM
For such an incontestably great piece of literature, it's strange that Leo Tolstoy's novel "Anna Karenina" hasn't been treated better. The 1935 Greta Garbo version is great, and there was a decent British TV version a decade ago with Helen McCrory, Kevin McKidd, Stephen Dillane and Mark Strong, but for the most part, big-screen adaptations have been closer to the most recent film version, Bernard Rose's weak 1997 take with Sophie Marceau, Sean Bean and Alfred Molina. (Fun Fact: as a 9-year-old, this writer nearly got the part of Anna's son in Rose's version. For reals.)
But today brings news that another version is in the works from a fairly prestigious team. Baz Bamigboye reports that Working Title has been developing a new adaptation, written by the great playwright Sir Tom Stoppard, and that a script's due before Christmas. The studio's favorite son, Joe Wright ("Pride & Prejudice," "Atonement") is attached to the new version, and in the spring, the director's likely to make a decision as to whether to direct this or the dark Abi Morgan-scripted take on "The Little Mermaid" announced earlier in the year.
But according to Working Title head honcho Tim Bevan, this one's looking like the front-runner, telling Bamigboye that "I'm not saying I've made up my mind, but there's something about Anna Karenina, Tom Stoppard and Joe Wright that sounds right." Furthermore, and it shouldn't come as a huge surprise to anyone, considering their working history, but it appears that Keira Knightley is 'top of the list' to play Anna in Wright's version.
While she still engenders an enormous amount of hate from some quarters, Knightley's going from strength-to-strength as an actor, and much of her best work has been done with Wright, particularly in her Oscar-nominated turn in "Pride & Prejudice," so it's a natural fit. Unless Knightley signs on to her rumored role in "The Dark Knight Rises" or Noah Baumbach's "The Emperor's Children" gets moving (and that was meant to shoot this summer so may be dead now), she's also got a clear slate in 2011, should Wright's version move forward.
For those unfamiliar with the source material, it's the tragic Moscow-set love story of the titular married Russian aristocrat who falls for an army officer (obviously, with the book weighing in at nearly 900 pages, this is a fairly reductive take, but we'll be here all day otherwise). It's a tricky job to try and capture the book in a reasonable running time, but with Stoppard, one of the greatest living writers, behind the adaptation, we're fairly excited about this. In the meantime, Joe Wright's child-assassin picture "Hanna," with Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett, hits theaters on April 8th, 2011. Hopefully it'll lead to a crossover picture down the line, "Hanna Karenina," about a child-assassin who falls in love with an army officer.