Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Joe Wright's Anna Karenina

Joe Wright reunites with Keira Knightley (&, less excitingly, Matthew MacFadyan) to adapt Leo Tolstoy's classic novel of infidelity & social shame in Tsarist Russia. It's a good thing, too, because Anna Karenina has only been brought to the screen 24 times before (17 times on the big screen, 7 times on the small) between 1910 & 2009 (spanning pretty much the entire history of cinema). Only a small handful of these have been successful adaptations, however, so perhaps there is merit in Wright revisiting the material.

Keira Knightly joins a distinguished & sizeable population of actresses to have filled the Karenina shoes (including Greta Garbo, twice, Vivien Leigh, Sophie Marceau, Jacqueline Bisset, Helen McCrory, Claire Bloom, Tatyana Drubich & Tatyana Samojlova), with a total of two major award nominations among them (both for Garbo).

It seems at once a good & predictable idea for Wright to return to period literary adaptations. With Keira Knightly. His Pride & Prejudice was fresh & - considering they whittled it down to 127 minutes - effective, while his Atonement was audacious & intoxicating. So, although his recent foray into stylised contemporary fight flicks leaves me wanting much more, it will be interesting to see what he does with Anna Karenina, and if Keira Knightly's on-going bid for a second Oscar nomination will finally pay off.

Plot-wise, Anna is the young wife of an older aristocrat who - when her husband (Jude Law) won't grant her a divorce - embarks on a scandalous affair with the young & wealthy Count Vronsky (Aaron Johnson), changing both their social fates forever. Anna Karenina has recently adorned the burdensome title of "Best Novel Ever Written", although this is likely due more to Tolstoy's prose & style, which bridged the gap from realist to modernist novels (thanks, Wikipedia, for making me sound smart), than his  plot, so the trick for Wright will be translating it to the screen in a suitably beguiling visual language that is true to its source, but appealing to a modern audience. But that is what Wright is good at.