What's it about?
Adapted by Tom Stoppard from the novel by Leo Tolstoy, this film tells the story of an aristocratic woman of 19th Century Russia who embarks on an affair with a young count. Don't worry if you have never read the book, since I haven't either, and I promise not to spoil the ending for you in this review.
Was it any good?
Let's just say that from the first few notes of the score and the first couple of minutes i knew I was going to love this film. You may or may not have heard that the vast majority of it was shot in an old theatre, which keeps the action enclosed but also opens it up to the best tricks of the trade from both stage and film. This makes for a piece which is stunning both visually and atmospherically. Joe Wright has done an excellent job directing it and the whole film felt like a dance; even when removing their hats and coats, the characters seem to move with balletic elegance. The scene changes were flowing and interesting, which meant that despite the running time of just over two hours I was hooked the whole way through. I really felt like I was in pre-revolutionary Russia, which I think was achieved by a combination of direction, props and Dario Marianelli's fantastic music.
The casting was, I felt, excellent but not overly predictable. It would be easy to throw in a combination of international stars and old guard British actors, but several of the parts were rather interesting choices. In particular, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who I mainly know as the would-be superhero lead in Kick Ass, was a fantastic Count Vronsky. I especially liked his scene with Jude Law, who played Anna's husband, in which both actors showed a different side to their characters. Also a special mention to Alicia Vikander who made for a beautiful and likable Kitty. Apparently Saoirse Ronan was offered the part but turned it down, and in some ways I'm glad she did, because I can't imagine anyone but Alicia in the part.
Now, let's talk about Keira Knightley. Having never read the book, I don't feel like I'm a suitable authority to tell you whether she was a good Anna or not. However, I do feel that a lot of people go into her films with fairly closed minds, simply because she has been so successful. It's always a heavy charge to play a much-loved literary character, but I think if you can pull off playing Elizabeth Bennet without offending too many Austenites then you should be able to handle other hefty roles. in my personal opinion Keira did a brilliant job. She's the right age for the part (at the beginning anyway, it does span a few years though) and she works well with everyone else in the cast, especially the two playing her husband and her lover. In my eyes she was a perfect Anna, certainly for this adaptation. It would be interesting to know how someone who has read the book feels about her performance.
But what about the clothes?
One word: WOW. I mentioned earlier that all of the props and visuals were perfect. That definitely includes the costumes. I can see a lot of awards coming this film's way in terms of art direction and costume design. In many ways, Joe Wright has assembled the old team for this, since he has Keira Knightley in the lead role and Dario Marianelli doing the music, both of whom worked on Pride and Prejudice an Atonement with him. The same is true of the costume-designer Jacqueline Durran, who was nominated for an Oscar in both cases. Will this prove to be her third-time-lucky and earn her that Oscar win? I certainly think she deserves an award or ten.
The thing about period dramas and classic adaptations is that you can have all sorts of fun with the costumes, as long as they evoke the era. Again, the fur coats and kid gloves added to the feel of a cold Russian setting, and the opulence of the ballgowns and jewels brought the high society to life.
Some of my personal favourites included Aaron Taylor-Johnson's white military uniform, which I must say he looked extremely handsome in. There was also a lot of symbolism using colour, with Anna mainly wearing dark red or black to portray her as the fallen woman, while innocent Kitty was almost always in light blue or white. The only exception to this was a beautiful scene between Anna and Count Vronsky, in which both are wearing all white. I loved the contrast between the pure visuals and their dialogue about her being a damned woman for breaking her marriage vows.
Nothing adds to a scene of distress in a film like a huge dress to sink down onto the marble floor in is there? It's something I've noticed before in films like Marie Antoinette and The Duchess. There's just something so gratifying about seeing expensive clothes being treated like an old pair of jeans...
No images are mine and all are probably property of the filmmakers. Some images lovingly borrowed from I Capture the Period Pieces