Friday, November 16, 2012

Keira Knightley as 'Anna Karenina' in a Film for the Stage

ONE of literature’s most adapted works is LeoTolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.” There have been countless ballets, stage productions, films and made-for-TV movies.

The latest film version, Anna Karenina, features Keira Knightley in the role of Tolstoy’s tragic heroine. The film is directed by KK collaborator Joe Wright from an adaptation by Tom Stoppard.

"Anna Karenina" continues its months-long (through 2 May 2013) rollout across the world after premiering in Toronto in September. It opens today in Taiwan and in limited release in the United States. (See trailer above.)

Because this fine work about a wayward wife in image-conscious, high-society Tsarist Russia has been done ad nauseam, JW decided to do things a tad differently. Most of the drama among Anna, her husband Karenin (Jude Law), calvary officer Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and others in their cloistered St. Petersburg milieu takes place on the stage – in an actual theater.

Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Anna (Keira Knightley) in a stolen moment in "Anna Karenina." Photos courtesy of Focus Features.

The director reached this decision after making an observation about these characters in late 19th-century Russia before the arrival of Napoleon’s forces.

Ironically, the Russians admired French high society and endeavored to emulate it in almost every way. This propensity is particularly striking in Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” in which much stock is placed on speaking French perfectly (which was the language of choice in the various salons) and having the latest fashions, food and flatware from France.

“Anna Karenina,” which arrived in a serialized version over several years after the publication of the former work, can almost be considered a condensed version of it without the threat and ravages of war. Tolstoy is hoeing the same rows

In any case, “Anna Karenina” director JW observed that these denizens of St. Petersburg and other fashionable cities in the fatherland – but St. Petersburg in particular – lived their lives as if they were on a stage, as if they were characters in a grand play. And so on the stage a good deal of “Anna Karenina” is set, including a horse race. One wonders how many takes were involved in getting just the right shot. Unfolding the action on stage is, of course, a little gimmicky but it actually works.

Passion drives Anna (Keira Knightley) to break with convention in "Anna Karenina."

KK, a wisp of a performer – she was a teenager – when she starred in “Bend it Like Beckham” and later joined the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, has blossomed into an actor with a capital A. She was delightful in “Pride and Prejudice;” righteously determined in “Atonement.” Hers was a riveting, if not occasionally over-the-top turn in “A Dangerous Method” last year.

In “Anna Karenina,” KK is required to keep her emotions rather more in check. She does so admirably. It is her film to carry and she bears it well.

Anna Karenina is rated R (for some sexuality and violence). Visit to learn more about “Anna Karenina.”

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