The glittering ballroom scene in Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina is an unforgettable highlight of this lush adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel of passion and betrayal.
Kiera Knightley’s Anna is swept onto the ballroom floor by the dashing young cavalry officer Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). As the couple circle the room and each other, performing the intricate moves of the Russian waltz, the magnetic attraction between them seems to fill the room.
Their fatal liaison is at the heart of Tolstoy’s classic story, set in the late 19th century, when the extravagant and indulgent lifestyle of Russia’s aristocracy was at its peak before its destruction a few decades later in the 1917 revolution.
Joe Wright has underlined the theatricality and superficiality of the era with an exhilarating production which is part theatre, part film. It begins with the stage curtain opening to reveal a series of vignettes which introduce the characters to a background of rollicking music.
Anna, the virtuous wife of a staid older husband (an almost unrecognisable Jude Law), goes from St Petersburg to Moscow to persuade her sister-in-law Dolly to forgive her philandering husband, Anna’s brother (Matthew Macfadyen). At the train station Anna and Vronsky first catch sight of each other. Later at the ball they can’t hide the intensity of their feelings.
Tom Stoppard’s script also highlights the interlocking romance of the quiet landowner Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) who is initially rejected by Dolly’s younger sister Kitty (Alicia Vikander), whose hopes of betrothal to Vronsky at the ball were dashed when he set eyes on Anna.
The scandalous affair was disastrous for Anna, who was ostracised from society, divorced by her shocked husband and forbidden to see her young son. Vronsky of course continued to be welcome in all the best circles.
“We could forgive you if you had merely broken the law – but you broke the rules,” says one of Anna’s former confidantes.
The role of Anna was made for Keira Knightly, who looks a dream in Jacqueline Durran’s exquisite costumes, and all the performances are excellent. The lavish sets and snow-covered country scenes are brilliantly captured by cinematographer Seamus McGarvey.
This is the 13th film version of Anna Karenina and one that would be hard to beat.
Anna Karenina is showing at Cinema Paradiso, Luna On SX and Windsor Cinema