Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


Removing Leo Tolstoy: Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina

Removing Leo Tolstoy: Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina

by Binoy Kampmark
February 12, 2013

Would you throw your self under a train for this? This curiously Downton Abbey styled adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina by Joe Wright suggests that this would be far fetched and needless in more ways than one. The man our heroine does it for seems wet behind the ears, and everything else. But here, the Bambi-eyed Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a bland, unconvincing prop of a man yearns to be with the married and dewy-eyed Anna (Keira Knightley). The Victorian stiffness is repaid in kind by a monastically disposed Alexei Karenin (Jude Law), who has other things on his mind. He becomes a wounded man of society – the great man of Russia – finding the moral coda he holds dear violated.

There in lies the challenge. One is already burdened by working a classic for an audience in terms of film location and delivery, and so alternative ways are sought to portray familiar themes. One thinks of Bernard Rose and his efforts in bringing, for instance, The Kreutzer Sonata to California or Master and Man to Colorado in Boxing Day. Here, Wright uses a Russian Theatre set in the 1870s. Within this highly stylised theatre setting, the tales of convention, morality and desire are told. It is a place where the seduction takes place, the wooing, and matters of state business conducted with cold precision. Then there are the side shots – the rejection of Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) by Kitty, and his escape to modest agrarian purity.

If there is praise to be found, it is the fact that Tom Stoppard’s versatile hand played a part. Extracting a workable screenplay from a massive tome of literature is no mean feat. So it is with little surprise that it is love, and more love, that is the focus of the film. It is either awkward and slightly constipated (Levin and Kitty), destructive and rule-breaking (Anna and Vronsky), stilted and societal (Karenin) or casually sexual (Oblonsky). Always, the brave if foolish woman must provide the blood insurance for the double standards a society demands. The horny chaps tend to be the first ones to be forgiven for their virile excesses.

Knightly is delectable, a sumptuous flower between scenes, and her Anna finds suitable psychological pitch. She loves, she grieves and she rages. That said, even between allusions to moving trains, tracks and impending death, she does not make a convincing case why she might have taken off with Vronsky, or improve upon her depiction of the progressive Duchess of Devonshire in Saul Dibb’s The Duchess (2008). Her death is immaculate and unconvincing – as is everything in terms of this romance. Vronsky is no hunk, though he makes some kind of stab at being a cad. Where on earth is the Slavic sense of doom, the gravy rich pondering over life’s inner sense of the tragic? This is a cinematic dish served cold, and for that reason, is excised of its Tolstoyan flavour.

In 1951, Lionel Trilling considered the weighty legacy of Anna Karenina and proposed that Tolstoy’s parading of objectivity was, in fact, a suggestion that we accept his world as real only in so far as we wanted it to be. “We so happily give our assent to what Tolstoy shows us and so willingly call it reality because we have something to gain from it being reality.” The performance seen here makes a valiant effort at gaining from this reality, but stumbles in forming its human characters. Complexity is sacrificed. This is Anna Karenina without Tolstoy and might well take its place amongst the latest Victorian-styled productions.

*************

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Valerie Morse: Key And NZ Police At G20: What A Contribution

While 200 New Zealand police officers are helping to repress protests outside of the G20 in Brisbane this week, John Key has been inside pushing the interests of giant multinational corporations to fast track the World Trade Organization (WTO) ... More>>

ALSO:

Gabriela Coutiño: Ayotzinapa Caravan Meets With EZLN In Oventic

In their visit to Zapatista Territory, parents of the 43 students disappeared from Ayotzinapa Guerrero, agreed with the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), to articulate a national grassroots movement that would question forced disappearances ... More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Talk Of A Third Intifada: Where To From Here, Palestine?

When a journalist tries to do a historian’s job, the outcome can be quite interesting. Using history as a side note in a brief news report or political analysis oftentimes does more harm than good. More>>

ALSO:

David Swanson: Who Says Ferguson Can't End Well

Just as a police officer in a heightened state of panic surrounded by the comfort of impunity will shoot an innocent person, the Governor of Missouri has declared a state of emergency preemptively, thus justifying violence in response to something ... More>>

Melanie Duval-Smith: Homeless Is Where The Heart Is

So, you are not allowed to feed the homeless on the streets of Florida. Last week, a 90 year old man and two Christian ministers were arrested for doing just that. I can hear the cries of the right wingers from here. “Not in our back yard”, ... More>>

John Chuckman: What We Truly Learned From the Great War and the Absurdity of Remembrance Day

No matter what high-blown claims the politicians make each year on Remembrance Day, The Great War was essentially a fight between two branches of a single royal family over the balance of power on the continent of Europe, British foreign policy holding ... More>>

Redress Information: A European Call To Suspend EU-Israel Association Agreement

More than 300 political parties, trade unions and campaign groups have called on the European Union to suspend its “association agreement” with Israel. The agreement, which came into force in 2000, facilitates largely unrestricted trade with Israel ... More>>

Ramzy Baroud: The Age Of TV Jokers: Arab Media On The Brink

As I was finalizing my research for this article, I found myself browsing through a heap of hilarious videos by mostly Egyptian TV show hosts Tawfiq Okasha and Amr Adeeb. More>>

Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news