“All the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.”
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) scandalises Russian society by embarking on a tempestuous affair with handsome young cavalry officer Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) thus putting her husband Karenin’s (Jude Law) political ambitions in jeopardy. Director Joe Wright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard’s formally daring approach to Tolstoy’s novel sets the action within an elaborately constructed theatre. By refusing to place events in real locations Wright adds a phantasmagorical touch as if these characters exist out-with their own time replaying events from the past. It is a bold conceit but one that never diverts from the power of Tolstoy’s story or the very fine performances from Knightley and in particular Jude Law.
Director Profile – Joe Wright
British director Joe Wright started his career directing dramas for the BBC, most notably Charles II: The Power and the Passion (2003). This led to him being chosen to direct Pride and Prejudice (2005) for Working Title Films with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen (both of whom appear in Anna Karenina). Another literary adaptation followed with Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2007) again with Knightley. The Soloist (2009) based on the true story of a musician who develops schizophrenia and ends up homeless didn’t receive the acclaim of Wright’s earlier films but it is an affecting work with great performance from Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. Hanna (2009) is an odd mixture of action movie and fairytale starring Eric Bana and Saoirse Ronan as father and daughter assassins.
Tolstoy on Film
Tolstoy has been well served by film. Greta Garbo made an impression in a 1935 version of Anna Karenina (dir. Clarence Brown). Russian actor-director Sergei Bonderchuk’s 1967 take on War and Peace is eight hours long but still quicker than reading the book. Robert Bresson’s final film L’ Argent (1983) is a masterly reworking of the Tolstoy short story ‘The Forged Coupon.’ Italian brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani made a typically spare and elegant adaptation of Tolstoy’s ‘Father Serguis.’ With Ivansxtc (2001) Bernard Rose relocates ‘The Life and Death of Ivan Ilyich’ to contemporary Los Angeles as a Hollywood agent faces up to his own mortality.
Screenplay by Tom Stoppard (based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy)
Directed by Joe Wright
Running time 2 hours 10 mins