Review: Anna Karenina (2012)

Anna Karenina 2012 Poster
So, I went to see 'Anna Karenina' at the cinema last week with rather low hopes, as the reviews and book blogger chat hadn't been good. But, you know, must go and see for ones self...

Let's say, I was disappointed. Really disappointed. 

First of all, why all the trickery? If you haven't seen it, the set-up of the first half, in particular, was stage set, with movable set walls and scenes in different parts of the city only separated by screens and movable props. I found it very difficult to forget I was watching a film and it very much distracted me from the story. What's wrong with halls and pavements for scenes of action? They work for everyone else, after all. I imagine the set-up is meant to convey the falseness of the social constructs of the contemporary era, in contrast to Anna's vividly beating heart,  but to me it smacked of insecurity, like 'it wasn't meant to be better, it was meant to be different' or something. I imagine it's quite exposing to try and tell a story well and have the emotional impact of it fall flat, so maybe they were self-sabotaging.

I also felt the story presented a too-modern take on the situation, as Anna was overtly applauded for following her heart and society was presented as very mean indeed for not letting her play with them afterwards. Really, she should be a tragic, dangerous figure who destroys her husband, children and lover, before destroying herself, to say nothing of the injuries that she felt she would have done God and her eternal soul. Karenin speaks of this, but Anna does not, and Karenin's moralising is presented like nagging, not as a voice of the church and the contemporary moral structure.  In this film adaptation, she is just sad because she can't have a divorce when she wants one and no-one will sit at her table.  I know they need to sell tickets, but better that they'd had a little faith in their audience rather than dumbing it down into nothingness. Also, I found the jealousy unconvincing and her suicide anti-climatic (and how can that even be?)
The main flaw for me, the culmination of these various things, is that this film felt like a classic case of style over substance  -  at one point I found myself admiring the dresses, and I wonder, is that really what my mind should be on whilst watching a dramatisation of what is really, the novel of novels? There was no foreboding, no latent, concealed unhappiness.  Où est la mélancolie? one might wonder, or где меланхолии? (Thanks Google Translate.) The beginning practically bounced along with life, contentment and industry, but everyone knows that happy, fulfilled people are not adulterers. Oblonsky was not 'opposite' enough, either, to fully demonstrate the gender hypocrisy, and Dolly was almost farcical in her distress, which is bizarre as Kelly MacDonald is normally such a safe bet.

The acting and characterisation were so weak also: Vronsky was a cream puff with little discernible personality, Keira/Anna was nervy and inconsistent, and Oblonsky was a very, very British (!) blustering fool. I would not leave anyone for any of them, as they were not real people. The brightest acting spot was Karenin, played quietly and steadily by Jude Law.

I was so disappointed by this film, which really has very little to do with Tolstoy or his story-telling, past the names, main plot points and places. 

Jacqueline Bisset and Christopher Reeve in Anna Karenina Sob. 

(I watched the 1985 TV version, with Jacqueline Bisset and Superman (look!), the other day, and that I found wholly engaging and a version I would recommend. Channel 4 in the UK also did an adaptation in 2000 with Helen McCrory which I remember being really good too. )


  1. Oh, and the trailer looked so good! I saw the C4 version which I enjoyed but will have to look up the Superman one. Anna Karenina is such a wonderfully evocative novel and I remember being stunned that Tolstoy could portray a woman so vividly. Too bad about the film.

    1. Too bad indeed, and I agree, the trailer is stunning! All those pretty dresses again I guess :)

  2. Stick with the Greta Garbo version!

    1. Hi Mel, that's a great idea; I've never seen this version (or knew of it, actually) but I LOVE Greta Garbo.

      Coincidentally, did you see this article about the fabulous Garbo on The Hairpin the other day? http://thehairpin.com/2012/09/scandals-of-classic-hollywood-the-exquisite-garbo


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