“Anna Karenina” is set in Russia but, make no mistake, this film is British from head to toe. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
How British is “AK?” Leo Tolstoy wrote the book, but Englishman Tom Stoppard wrote the script and Brit Joe Wright directed. The bulk of filming was done in the UK. And, of course, British actors populate the cast.
Much of this film is shot on and around a theater stage. We see Russian bureaucrats stamping papers in a musical rhythm. Model train sets substitute for exterior shots of trains. These elements and others give “AK” a sort of unreality that adds spice but doesn’t distract from the storytelling.
The plot is a classic tale of love and sex among the privileged class of pre-revolution Russia (1874, to be precise). Keira Knightley, looking impossibly beautiful, has the title role. Her husband, played by Jude Law, is a refined man who (almost) never loses his cool. (Law, who turns 40 in December, plays his most mature role to date.) Anna’s lover is played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. He co-starred earlier this year in a completely different role as a pot grower/dealer in “Savages.”
While riding on a train to Moscow, Anna meets her future lover’s mother who offers her outlook on life. Her credo, approximately, is that it’s better to regret mistakes you make than to regret never having acted on one’s urges. This guidance informs Anna’s aggressive pursuit of her young lover.
Along with Anna’s story, we have the story of her brother and his chronic infidelity. Her brother is played by Matthew Macfayden who, coincidentally, wooed Knightley in 2005’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Then there’s the sweet romance between farmer Levin and Anna’s sister-in-law, Kitty.
One might ask why this story is being told yet again? Previous English language versions have starred Vivien Leigh, Sophie Marceau and Greta Garbo. The reason: It’s a classic.
There are characters in “AK” for most everyone in the audience to identify with. For women, Anna presents a character who risks her unfulfilling marriage to indulge her passion and desire. Are there married women in America today who might fantasize about doing that? I’m guessing there are.