Keira Knightley in great acting shocker! Not to be mean. I like her in Pirates of the Caribbean which I have seen 157 times due to the viewing habits of other inhabitants of my household. But I wondered when Knightley was going to find a role which allowed her to shine. Anna Karenina is it.
I reviewed Joe Wright’s latest (he also directed Atonement and Pride and Prejudice, also starring Knightley) on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row. Pic here. Mark Lawson agreed that it’s a great film but not flawless. Listen here from 10mins30. The much-vaunted “theatre” idea doesn’t quite hang together. For the first third of the film all the actors walk through a moving stage, with Anna sometimes watching from the wings. It’s a wonderful device: very bold and original. And obviously supposed to represent the pantomime that Anna’s life as a loyal wife and mother has become.
Then when the action moves from Moscow to St Petersburg suddenly we’re (mostly) in real life and your usual costume drama landscape territory. I wished they’d had the guts to do the whole thing in the theatre.
Favourite bits? Matthew Macfadyen’s comic turn as a bombastic, cabbage soup-hating Stiva (Anna’s brother). Olivia Williams as Vronsky’s glamorous, seductive mother who initially encourages Anna to have an affair (“I’d rather end up wishing I hadn’t than wishing I had”) but is then horrified when her own son becomes the target. Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery (one of my favourite actresses) as Princess Myagkaya, the only one who supports Anna (“In my opinion Karenin is a fool and Anna is the best of us”). And Princess Betsy’s flatulent puppy.
Verdict? Shades of Amelie, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge. A must-see. Just close your eyes for the bit where Karenin (Jude Law) gets out the velvet box where he keeps his creepy contraceptive sheath…
Pic above from 1914 Russian silent film version starring Maria Germanova as Anna Karenina.