The brilliant Tolstoy love story Anna Karenina turns into more of a lush and extravagant soap opera in the stagy 2012 film adaptation by director Joe Wright. There is no denying the genius of the movie, it is certainly a tribute to his imagination and wide ranging taste. I loved his film, The Soloist which was a gritty and down to earth story. But Anna Karenina comes at the expense of solid story-telling. The original 1877 classic novel was dense with both sweeping and rambling prose, typical of the Russian style. This is the secret seduction of that genre, all great Russian tales afford both the macro and the micro view of people and their lives.
The fabulous playwright Tom Stoppard winnows the half million or so words down a few thousand, and in so doing removes all the interior dialogue that the characters have with themselves as they focus on their love life. In the process, he – or his Hollywood bosses – removed all the heart from the film, leaving only the dead corpse of a great work behind, and some glorious cinematic excess.
Wright shot most of his film on a single soundstage at Shepperton Studios and in a dilapidated theatre outside London. These limitations might have been what provoked him to set the film as a theatrical conceit. The visual effects are often ravishing, but their emotional content – especially when contrasted with the original novel – is tenuous at best.