Having read Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to feel about a film adaptation. If for no other reason, then just because the book is so bloody long. How can you condense something of that size into a two hour film?
The answer, it seems, is by setting the majority of it in a theatre (cleverly mirroring Tolstoy’s own feelings about the superficial nature of Russian society), and by chopping out the boring bits where Levin bangs on about farming reforms for 300 pages. Instead we are left with a rather pleasant montage of him discussing slavery while working with the peasants.
I went to see it with a friend and my boyfriend (actually the other two members of the Bond watching club). Neither of them had read the book, so it was interesting to get their feedback. My friend ‘couldn’t get her head round the fact that it was set in a theatre. Was the book any better?’. She has little time for the avant garde. My boyfriend was a lot more enthusiastic, saying that although he found the story dull, he thought the actual film was beautiful. He’s quite interested in the film making process, so I was pleased that he enjoyed that aspect of it.
And it was beautiful. I loved the theatre setting, I loved the stylised feeling, the sweeping set changes, the rhythms created by the extras which were incorporated into the soundtrack, it was all wonderful. However, I had other problems.
Firstly, I’m not a fan of Keira Knightley. She’s stunning, and that worked very well in this film, but she spends a lot of time playing the same character in each film. I’ve seen every expression on her face so many times now, I can’t help but wonder if she pulls the same faces in her every day life.
Secondly, Anna Karenina is not the most exciting story in the world. I think a good job was made of condensing it, but it remained less than scintillating.
Finally, I didn’t like the translation which they used. The copy of the book I read was spellbindingly quotable, and it’s a shame that they didn’t use more of the dialogue from that. Some of my favourite lines from the book were in the film, but with an awful clunky phrasing.
I normally just avoid watching films which are adaptations of books I’ve read. They don’t work for me and I come away feeling let down. This was a rare example of a film being better. I’d watch it again, which is unusual for me anyway, but especially unusual when I found the story a little dull. Sometimes, just sometimes, good looks can be the most important thing.