All the world’s a stage in Joe Wright’s big screen version of Anna Karenina-literally. Most of the action is set in and around a theatre. Scenes transform from bedrooms, to ballrooms to train stations and horse races as Russia is confined to a stage for us to view Anna’s story. Occasionally we enter the outside world with Levin’s farm or the fields where lovers Anna and Vronsky meet.
Anna is married to the respectable but cold Alexei (Jude Law) but on a visit to meet her brother (Matthew Macfaddyn) she meets Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and embark on an affair that will have tragic consequences.
Anna Karenina is visually stunning. The costumes are amazing especially Knightley’s dresses and ball gowns. But it’s not simply a matter of style over content. Far from distracting the visual aspect helps keep the audience engaged, especially as the film is two hours long. The setting adds to the theme that Anna’s world is like a stage, she is there to be scrutinised by society and her affair is like a form of theatre to be whispered about by its audience. There is a sense that all eyes are on her, judging her but unable to stop from looking at her as she falls further into her own form of self-destruction.
This is Joe Wright’s fourth film and it does share similarities to his earlier films. There is a ballroom scene between Vronsky and Anna where they suddenly become the only two people in the room which is similar to a scene in his Pride and Prejudice. The film also appears similar, at least in the beginning, to Moulin Rouge with its flash design and costumes but where Moulin Rouge moves along at breath neck pace with songs about all you need is love, Anna Karenina looks at the price of love and whether the all consuming desire is worth it.
There is good performances from all the cast. Kiera Knightley holds her own as the passionate, longing Anna and Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a strong Count Vronsky, the younger man who pursues Anna and then has to deal with the consequences of their affair. The best of them is Jude Law who plays Anna’s long suffering husband Alexei. He is a much more sympathetic character then Anna; it’s easy to emphasis with his suffering of trying to deal with a wife that everyone is talking about and who admits to his face that she does not love him.
It’s not easy to decide whether Anna is deserving of our sympathy. Of course it’s not right how society treats Anna for her affair (especially in comparison to her cheating brother) but it’s hard to root for a character that destroys everything because of the passionate love she feels for Verosky. Despite this she is a compelling character to watch even if she’s not always likeable.
As the curtain falls on Anna Karenina it’s will be the theatre setting, costumes and Jude Law which stands out in the audience minds