Director Joe Wright teams up with Keira Knightley for a third time in his adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.” Just like Wright’s adaptations of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement,” this adaptation of “Anna Karenina” is expressly cinematic; and reinterprets “Anna Karenina” into something simultaneously modern and classic. The just released featurette goes into more detail on how Joe Wright and writer Tom Stoppard will re-envision this Tolstoy classic. “Anna Karenina” opens November 9, 2012.
The featurette includes interviews with Joe Wright, Keira Knightley (Anna Karenina), and Jude Law (Alexi Karenin) who all articulate how this film is a unique period drama. Knightley acknowledges the many adaptations of “Anna Karenina” with a provocative question, “What is the point of doing a safe adaptation?”
Joe Wright’s adaptation will push the boundaries of cinema to include theater. Wright argues that the “Russian aristocracy lived their lives as if they were on a stage,” so his central metaphor pervading the film will be life as stage play. Thus, much of the action of the film will take place in a theater, sometimes the characters will be in the seats watching and sometimes they will be center stage performing.
This sounds like a heady undertaking–adapting a massive novel to film, and then bringing in the medium of theater performance? Though, perhaps Tom Stoppard is the best choice in a screenwriter because he scripted “Shakespeare in Love” which also utilized the theater as a story-telling device within the film.
Kelly Macdonald, who plays Dolly, is aware of the challenges faced by set designers who must translate defining scenes of the novel into cinematic theater, she says slightly exasperatedly, “they are going to have a horse race within a theater.” The steeplechase scene with Vronsky and Frou Frou will be interesting to see on the stage, and the brief clip in the featurette shows Anna fearfully watching from a seat in the theater as the horses race across the stage.
While the idea of interpreting much of the action of the novel into a stage play will be visually appealing, the idea of having the characters acting out crucial scenes on a stage, seems to contrast with the inherent driving force of the novel— realism. “Anna Karenina” is touted as the pinnacle realist novel, so an adaptation that chooses to accentuate the drama into fantastical elements doesn’t seem like the best choice. But then on second thought, though the novel is realistic, there are many aspects of Tolstoy’s story that lend itself to stage performance. Anna Karenina lives her life in the spotlight, and once she begins her affair with Vronsky, all of the Russian society knows and judges her harshly for it. There are always eyes on Anna. Plus, foreboding dreams and sharing the thoughts of the dog, Laska all add to the mystique of the novel. These concepts can only be strengthened by Wright’s blend of film and theater.
Jude Law says it best, “I’m sympathetic to all characters in this story, you need understand all sides.” And this is the key of “Anna Karenina,” all the characters are important, not just the title character. All the characters are happy and suffer in different ways throughout the story. Law’s words connect with the famous opening lines, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
If Joe Wright and the wonderful cast can latch onto this idea of understanding all the characters as multifaceted human beings, then the theater aspect will only add to the drama.
See “Anna Karenina” November 9, 2012.