My thoughts on period drama Anna Karenina can be summed up quite simply: a tedious story but at least it’s still nice to look at. Despite being tempted to leave it there and be done with it I understand that that approach would be rather unhelpful, so let’s delve a little deeper into director Joe Wright’s (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) latest team up with actress Keira Knightley. Is the third time a charm?
Based on the Leo Tolstoy novel of the same name, Anna Karenina unsurprisingly tells the story of Anna Karenina (Knightley), an aristocrat living in 19th century Russia. Anna is married to well-respected Alexei Karenin (Jude Law) but she’s quick to fall into a steamy affair with the filthily-moustached Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). It’s a romance with many of the usual trappings, where the players involved make frustrating decisions all in the insipid name of love. Perhaps Smith was right.
It’s just tedious, especially since it all ends on a bit of a downer that’s not worth the 130-minute slog – suffice to say that this probably isn’t the best movie for your Valentine. It’s also worth noting that Anna Karenina features the trappings of the period, as it all takes place in a time when women were blamed and marginalised for improprieties while men got off more or less free. This is clearly evidenced here as anyone and everyone with a fancy dress turns their back on Anna once news of the affair breaks out (Count Filthy-Moustache however continues to enjoy the perks of his position). It’s unfair and demeaning, raising an interesting talking point for when the curtains close but it doesn’t do much to elevate the core love story above a dull drudgery.
At least Anna Karenina looks and sounds fantastic. Nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Original Score, Cinematography, Production Design and Costume Design, it might bore but it’s a beautiful bore at that! It’s definitely a director’s movie, as Wright ambitiously films the whole ordeal as if it’s a stage show. Backgrounds and props slide into and out of screen, a toy train doubles as the real thing and extras freeze their movements from time to time to eerie effect. The acting too matches the technical artistry (although nobody bothers with an accent), with Knightley putting in another strong performance. Jude Law looks a bit bored in his limited role however, though Matthew Macfadyen’s cheer as Anna’s brother Oblonsky helps to lighten things up. Naturally, it’s Vronsky’s filthy moustache that steals the show.
A technical achievement in filmmaking mired by its tedious period romance.