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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
12A
Cast
Jude Law
Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Olivia Wilde
Matthew Macfadyen
Kelly Macdonald
Saoirse Ronan
Andrea Riseborough
Keira Knightley.
Directors
Joe Wright.
Screenwriters
Tom Stoppard.
Running Time
129 minutes

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Anna Karenina
It’s Doctor Zhivago indoors


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Plot
In Imperial Russia 1874, socialite Anna Karenina (Knightley), seemingly content in a passionless marriage to dependable government official Karenin (Law), falls for dashing cavalry officer Count Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson) and starts an affair that turns her world and polite Russian society upside down.


Review
Anna Karenina
There are numerous reasons to welcome, if not cherish, Joe Wright’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s 1873 socialite-shags-a-soldier doorstop. Despite eye-popping period finery, longing looks a-plenty and Olympic standard fan waving, Anna Karenina militantly doesn’t want to be just another costume drama; it attacks the heavyweight concerns of Russian literature (hypocrisy, jealousy, faith, fidelity, the pastoral vs. the urban, huge moustaches) with wit and verve; most exciting of all, it is filmmaking of the highest order, channeling every other art form from painting to ballet to puppetry while remaining completely cinematic.

Wright’s conceit is to dramatise the lion’s share of Tolstoy’s 864 pages inside a dilapidated 19th century theatre to suggest the falsity of Russian society, only roaming into “real” world to follow young romantic Levin (a terrific Domhnall Gleeson) in his search for a “real” life. So, via One From The Heart-esque theatre craft, the set transforms from endless desks of accountants rhythmically stamping to a full-sized train entering a bustling station to a steeplechase raging across the stage all within the confines of the theatre walls. Best of all is a lavish ball in which Taylor-Johnson’s officer sweeps Knightley’s Anna off her feet. It is an Adam Ant video directed by Visconti and it is stunning.

Yet Wright doesn’t let the theatricality spill into the naturalistic performances. Knightley and Taylor-Johnson inhabit Anna and Vronsky but as the relationship moves on the central pair’s dilemma become less involving. More touching is the young romance between Gleeson’s Levin and Alicia Vikander’s Kitty — when they spell out their feelings in lettered blocks, it is as moving love scene as we've seen this year.

Around the central couples, a clutch of familiar faces help navigate the dense dramatis personae — stand-outs include Law as Anna’s staid spouse (you’ll shudder at his little box) and a boisterous Macfadyen as Anna’s brother — but this is really its director’s movie. Bold, imaginative, thought-provoking and passionate, Anna Karenina puts Wright at the forefront of filmmaking in Britain. Or anywhere.


Verdict
If it doesn’t ultimately engage your heart as it might, Anna Karenina is period drama at its most exciting, intoxicating and modern. Spellbinding.


Reviewed by Ian Freer

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Anna Karenina
Empire Star Rating

Enchanting, But Somewhat Too Ethereal

The main thing about Wright's Anna Karenina is that it is, first and foremost, a tragedy. The tale is told in a modern and punchy progession (which, surprisingly, translates rather well given that it's a period drama) which is altogether very original (the use of the theatre, for example), but does fail to capture the-down-to-earth appeal of the original story. It is unlikely to appeal to audience outside of its' target demographic as a result of this. Shot in a style that is lavish and spellbin... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 23:42, 19 October 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Anna Karenina

demoncleaner; thanks for putting into words what I've been trying to work out for the past couple of hours I'd known about the budget restraints before I went as I couldn't for the life of me work out what the hell was going on. Spent most of the film wishing that Keira/Anna would bring forward her appointment with the train and wondering where I'd seen that enchanting actress who played Kitty before to me that a film of a book that is all about passion is totally devoid of it. I did get upset... More

Posted by moehat at 22:34, 26 September 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Anna Karenina

I enjoyed the early part, that is, reninaovie of the graphic novel. But on the way back to Saint Petersburg the whole thing got very leaden and it became a bit of a stained glass window instead. The thing is you can see a good film in here if you took Anna and Vronsky out of it, which is a bit of a liability when you're adapting this particular novel. This was perhaps my favourite book that I was made to study at school and Levin quickly became perhaps my favourite character in literature. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by demoncleaner at 21:32, 20 September 2012 | Report This Post


Spectacular spectacular

Having never seen Anna Karenina before, or read the book, I can't tell you whether Wright has managed a faithful adaptation but I can confirm that he's constructed an absorbing and thoroughly entertaining one. Due to budget constraints while filming almost the entire story takes place within an abandoned theatre. This means that Wright has to be both cunning and creative. The first act in particular is delightfully theatrical - pieces of set are whisked past and around the camera to create diff... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Buttercup87 at 17:06, 20 September 2012 | Report This Post


Too clever by half

I have no idea what film the Empire reviewer watched, but it wasn't the Anna Karenina I saw last night! If we hadn't been with friends we would have left after 30 minutes. Ludicrously dull and ridiculously over clever by turns. Shame she didn't jump under the train at the start and saved me two hours of my life I'll never get back. The acting was passable but the staging was ridiculous. If you haven't got a budget to do justice to a story - don't do it !! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jimcresta44 at 11:13, 19 September 2012 | Report This Post


FLASHMAN

A beautiful, fearless film, but too clever for a tale of emotional attachment; sound familair???????????.........the same pop was always leveled at David Lean, and if the director maintains the same trajectory, he could end up with the same stature. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Frank Comiskey at 11:19, 12 September 2012 | Report This Post


FLASHMAN

A beautiful, fearless film, but too clever for a tale of emotional attachment; sound familair???????????.........the same pop was always leveled at David Lean, and if the director maintains the same trajectory, he could end up with the same stature. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Frank Comiskey at 11:19, 12 September 2012 | Report This Post


RE: I

You know when you've lost all interest in a film when you start checking your watch while it's on me I got less than half-way through. ... More

Posted by Wild about Wilder at 10:32, 11 September 2012 | Report This Post


RE: I

It's hilarious that you didn't know the ending of that book. ... More

Posted by Deviation at 04:39, 11 September 2012 | Report This Post


I

Maybe when I watch this I can finally finish reading it after that other Tolstoy film ruined the book for me... ... More

Posted by homersimpson_esq at 03:09, 11 September 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Not a fan

Russia in the late 1900’s: Prince Oblonsky has just had his extra-marital affair discovered by his wife Dolly and the family is in turmoil just as Oblonsky’s sister, Anna, who is unhappily married to Alexei Karenin, is about to arrive. Meanwhile Dolly’s younger sister Kitty is being pursued by two men; landowner Konstantin Levin and army officer Count Vronnsky. Anna arrives at the station and her and Vronsky briefly see each other, though at the same time a railway worker accidently fa... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Dr Lenera at 21:22, 10 September 2012 | Report This Post


Not a fan

Well made but still dull shite with some terrible acting. I was so happy when it was over. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by beardyphysics at 20:53, 08 September 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Boring!!

L: OPEN YOUR EYES L: J_BUltimatum I fell asleep, while watching this... when I woke up I wish I hadn't. Was terribly boring, oden actingt my cup of tea. ooden Acting?!! from Kiera Knightly?,well I neverote] 's an actress who's made a career of simply looking like a classic English rose. Not really familiar with the the story but it looks like fairly typical Joe Writght from what I know of him. I know he's made a couple of different films, but period drama literary... More

Posted by Super Hans at 20:46, 06 September 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Boring!!

L: J_BUltimatum I fell asleep, while watching this... when I woke up I wish I hadn't. Was terribly boring, oden actingt my cup of tea. ooden Acting?!! from Kiera Knightly?,well I never ... More

Posted by OPEN YOUR EYES at 23:43, 05 September 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Boring!!

relationship moves on the central pair’s dilemma become less involving. More touching is the young romance between Gleeson’s Levin and Alicia Vikander’s Kitty can't figure out if this is a criticism or not because that's how you're supposed to feel. From the book anyway. ... More

Posted by Evil_Bob at 02:07, 05 September 2012 | Report This Post


Boring!!

I fell asleep, while watching this... when I woke up I wish I hadn't. Was terribly boring, very wooden acting and not my cup of tea. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by J_BUltimatum at 14:38, 03 September 2012 | Report This Post


Interesting...

I just read the 'other' magazine's online review of this, which gave it 2* for being hollow and merely shiny. This seems to have divided the two as much as Antichrist did. I will now have to see this purely to see how professionals can disagree so much on the same objective topic - i.e. the artistic qualities of a piece of cinema. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by RyanShanks at 13:59, 03 September 2012 | Report This Post


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