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'Anna Karenina' Early Review: Visually Splendid, Audacious, Swoony Epic Romance Heads for Oscars

by David Gritten
September 2, 2012 7:00 PM
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Anna Karenina, set 2

It’s not perfect. There’s a slight loss of pace and intrigue two-thirds of the way through, as Wright’s relentless ingenuity becomes repetitive and a tad exhausting; it reminds you that he was born to parents who ran a puppet theatre.

It’s also fair to say Wright’s shooting style is better suited to scenes set in the urban, sophisticated high society of St. Petersburg than those involving the idealistic farm owner Levin (Domhnall Gleeson). Yet a lesser film (maybe one commissioned by a studio) might simply have dumped the Levin character. He is, of course, a formal  counterpoint to Oblonksy’s decadence, and he’s the character closest to Tolstoy’s attitudes to faith and fidelity. In truth, though, he’s a little dull.

As for Aaron Johnson, who plays Anna’s lover Vronsky, he looks like a boy sent in to do a man’s job; Johnson can do shallow and spoiled, which Vronsky certainly is, but he’s too callow to portray a character who is after all an experienced cavalry officer.

Still, there is much here to enjoy and appreciate. Wright certainly knows his cinema: in later scenes, as Anna comes to realise the immense personal cost of her infidelity, Wright shoots Knightley almost in the manner of a tragic heroine from some 1940s movie. The ghosts of assertive actresses from that era – Barbara Stanwyck comes to mind – stir faintly.

All in all, it’s a triumph for Stoppard -- and for Wright, who seems to have aimed for a visual equivalent to Anna’s helpless passion, one to overwhelm audiences with lustrous images and dizzying movement. He just about gets away with it.


  • Jess | January 14, 2013 10:37 AMReply

    I have to agree Jonnybon. There are plenty of internationally renowned British actors/actresses that don't 'sharpley divide opinion' quite in the UK. Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Daniel Day-Lewis, Helen Mirren. And in case you thought we were only capable of loving the older ones: Andrew Garfield, Kate Winslet, Carey Mulligan, James McAvoy, Tom Hardy, Romola Garai, Rachel Weisz. I could go on. I don't believe any of them have critics as divided. Yes I'm sure there is a critic somewhere that has written something critical about any of them at one time, and they won't all have flawless acting pasts. Even Jude Law (more recently) and Aaron Johnston, her colleagues in this, both British, both internationally known, come under less slack in general. It's not some 'tall poppy syndrome', but rather the fact that a significant number of people find her acting at best, limited, and at worse, painful to watch. I'm still not sure I'll ever forgive her for 'A Dangerous Method'. (I will concede that she was decent in Pride & Prejudice, though.)

  • The Pope | September 3, 2012 3:57 PMReply

    Seamus McGarvey's luminous cinematography is an Oscar lock. He was nommed before, Atonement, and his work here shows how diverse he is (he lensed The Avengers as well).

  • Finn | September 3, 2012 4:03 AMReply

    Not actually an all-British cast--among the principals, Domhnall Gleeson (Levin) is Irish, while Alicia Vikander (Kitty) is Swedish.

  • David Gritten | September 4, 2012 11:32 AM

    Quite right, Finn. This is what happens when you omit the word 'almost' before the phrase 'all-British'. My mistake, and my apologies -- to you and the actors concerned.

  • YUMMY MONEY | September 3, 2012 2:42 AMReply

    So David Gritten writes a review for Anne Thompson, and then an ever-so-slightly modified version of the same review for the Daily Telegraph? Doubling-up on those paychecks, huh?

  • Jonnybon | September 2, 2012 7:33 PMReply

    That is not why a lot of us Brits dislike Knightley. The reason is that some of her performances are plain bad/annoying, and her stupid pout is ridiculous. That said, Joe Wright brings out the best in her, and her Pride & Prejudice performance in particular was impressive.

  • Lee | September 6, 2012 1:28 PM

    yeah, I'm wondering about that pout too. Until now I still think it's just part of her mannerism.

  • Neil | September 4, 2012 12:55 AM

    The British can't help but be snobbish. It is part of their genetic make-up and it doesn't matter if one is working class or upper class, they all are pretty adept at looking down their collective noses; speaking as one who is a Canadian but whose relatives are all British. We suffer the same ailment in our country where any artist who makes it big outside our country seems suddenly lacking in "real" talent except for a very few like Christopher Plummer, Neil Young, Joni Mitchel and a few others.

  • Jonnybon | September 3, 2012 5:59 AM

    Cronenberg is no great, and he has worked with many average/bad/annoying actors.

  • Mike | September 2, 2012 10:17 PM

    I thank God everyday for that pout on her face. I don't think Cronenberg would want to work with her if she gave bad/annoying performances like you said.

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