Anna (Keira Knightley), a member of the Russian high society, is married to a well-regarded aristocrat Alexi Karenin (Jude Law). But when she travels to Moscow to try and fix her brother’s marriage after he is found with a mistress, she meets the charming Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a young and vibrant cavalry officer and an instant connection is shared between them. Vronsky follows Anna back to St. Petersburg and begins to try and win her love from husband Alexi. Fighting against her morality and pressures of society, Anna finally succumbs and she and Vronsky begin an affair, something that will change their lives forever.
In rather spectacular fashion, Anna Karenina is a wonderfully unique and intoxicating experience. What could well have been another stale period costume drama, Joe Wright instead infuses an ingenuity and playfulness into a story that makes it not only memorable but stand out and be counted. The concept behind the theatre space as a setting is stunning, and with this master stroke of style, it breathes an invigorating, if not slightly gimmicky, beauty to proceedings.
The moving of set walls and the staged choreography, working in unison with the creativity of Wright’s camera brings fluidity to the story and helps you become caught up in the operatic nature of the tale. What Wright unfortunately creates though, is a sweeping love story with two characters that you generally don’t care for. The chemistry between the two leads is fine but it’s their actions and how they treat the people their love affects that’s in question. It creates a disconnect with the audience and it’s protagonists that just doesn’t feel like the director’s intention.
The first hour is an absolute joy – Fast, fun, and with some incredibly exquisite filmmaking on show, the second hour, however, is not as good. As the story becomes more serious, and you begin to see the true consequences for Anna and Vronsky’s actions, Wright correctly calms down his spirited aesthetic. But with the narrative becoming a little uneven and, to be honest, messy, it loses the magnetic energy of the beginning.
There are problems – big problems – but the enjoyment that is to be had from Joe Wright’s wonderful stylistic choices in undeniable. Yes, it may be a case of style of substance, but when the style is so well executed as it is in Anna Karenina, you are able to sit back and just drink in the cinematic talent that is unfolding in front of you.