I Don’t Hate Anna Karenina (2012)

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I know how my colleagues feel about the 2012 remake of Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightley as the eponymous tragic heroine. Trust me, if we’re going to put the 2012 film against the 1997 one starring Sophie Marceau, there’s really no contest as to which one is better acted and has better costumes. Of course, Sean Bean as Vronsky is panty-incinerating hot and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Vronsky is more boy-band cute than the kind of guy a girl would be willing to end an otherwise decent marriage for. And Keira Knightley is good, but not Sophie Marceau good. That said, I think that the 2012 version deserves some consideration before dismissing it out of hand.

Here are a few of my reasons why…

 

1. Tom Stoppard adapted the screenplay

This matters to me because I love Tom Stoppard and just about everything he touches turns to genius and sparkles. Granted, the screenplay is not exactly your typical Tom Stoppard-y film, leaning further away from the dry wit and irreverence and more towards the heavy and depressing, but that’s Tolstoy for you.

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Tom Stoppard and director Joe Wright.

 

2. The theatrical vibe of the film

The film is almost entirely set in a theater/on a stage, with the exception to the parts dealing with Levin’s (fabulous) house, and in no way is there any attempt to make it realistic. Once that became evident, I was able to sit back and let the art wash over me.

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The “stage play” vibe was super obvious by the time they got to the horse race scene, which takes place in a theater.

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3. Jude Law

I have always had the hots for Jude Law, and while this role does nothing for his hotness, his portrayal of Karenin was the thing I liked the most about the film. Not so much brooding, but quietly suffering while his wife spirals out of control. Also, the condom scene. Safe sex, everyone!

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4. Paintings come to life

The art historian in me especially loves this touch. And the theme of art and artwork is repeated throughout the film.

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Kitty’s ballgown and the entire dance scene in which she wears it is pretty much a direct reference to Degas’ L’etoile (1876).

 

5. Not all the costumes suck

Some are actually rather pretty.

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6. Anna’s red dress makes sense within the context of the film

She’s heading towards mental breakdown. You’d have to be mental to wear a dress like this in public.

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7. Anna’s dressing scene

I love the way the maid moves and manipulates Anna’s body, as though she’s a doll. Which is pretty much the point — Anna has not yet discovered her agency.

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Which side are you on — do you love or hate 2012’s Anna Karenina?

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Website

Sarah discovered her dual passion for history and costume right around the age of twelve. Dragged kicking and screaming to her first Renaissance Faire at Black Point, she was convinced she was going to hate it, but to her surprise, she fell head over heels in love with the world of reenactment and dress up immediately. Her undergraduate degree is in Clothing & Textile Design, and she has a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture. When she’s not hauling crap to SCA events and ren faires, Sarah enjoys reading true crime books, writing fiction, and sewing historical clothing from the Middle Ages through the 20th-century. One of these days, she might even start updating her old costuming blog again.

20 Responses

  1. bauhausfrau

    The extended preview I saw was so godawful I couldn’t bring myself to see it. That said, I DO like a lot of the hats I’ve seen in stills from the movie.

    Reply
    • Kate D

      Yes! I loved the hats. After watching the movie, I had a strong desire to wear one of Anna’s hats with face veil.

      Reply
  2. AshleyOlivia

    I did not hate it, but I made the mistake of watching it with my parents. My dad just got up and awkwardly left during the scene where Anna and Vronsky are making out, with Anna whispering “Murderer” (or “murder me?”) and the camera zoomed in on their tongues. So now the film is kind of ruined for me.

    (I made the same error with Atonement. Saw it in theaters, 6 months later recommended we watch it while visiting the parents, only remembering the Dunkirk scene–my dad likes WWII–and completely forgetting about the whole first half of the movie with the sex and Robbie’s letter. We only watch Dr. Who when I visit now.)

    Reply
  3. Elizabeth Merritt

    I hated it. The whole artsy/”we’re in a theater” thing didn’t work for me at all, it just made the film look cheap. The costumes were okay, not that bad but not great. And Keira is just plain annoying.

    Reply
  4. Kate D

    I enjoyed it for what it was. I took it as “art inspired by the book” and as you said “let it wash over me”. I especially liked the movements and “dance” of each scene and set transition.

    The book is one of my favorites. What bothered me more than the creative costume or set decisions was the removal of the concept of faith to be replaced with the fuzzy idea of “love”. Instead of “God forgive me” we get “forgive me” and instead of Levin coming to faith at the end, he comes to understand… what exactly? That “love is love”…? It seemed Tolstoy’s theme was adapted into having a completely different (and contradictory) meaning.

    That said, I think it accomplished what it was trying to do, aiming for artificial and staged beauty. It was a very pretty movie.

    Reply
    • Susan Pola

      This is another film that I’m ambivalent about. Granted pretty costumes and sets, but this is one of my favourite Tolstoy novels.

      It was more than just the sordid affair. Tolstoy was writing about, like Kate said, faith and the journey man makes to God. And how faith enriches your life, makes you see that possessions are meaningless (Tolstoy was a Count and lived simply like many of his peasants).

      I liked Sophie Marceau’s version and the BBC version better.

      Reply
  5. Charity

    I like this film for pure eye candy and creativity (I ADORE the “world is a stage” format), but the highly condensed format does leave out many of the themes that I really LOVE from the book.

    My favorite adaptation is actually the Masterpiece Theatre version from 2000 (?) with Stephen Dillane as Karenin. It’s closest to the book and outlines the themes of social injustice, false piety, forgiveness, and self-loathing very well. The costumes there are quite pretty as well. Anna has this one embroidered gown I drool over every time.

    I think… my favorite Vronsky is from this film (I’ve never seen the appeal of Sean Bean, my bad), my favorite Anna is either Keira or Vivien Leigh, and my favorite Karenin is Dillane. He captures Karenin’s dry humor from the book and raging inner passions better than most of the other depictions.

    Reply
    • Kate D

      Charity, I’ll have to check out the 2000 miniseries. Thanks! I also haven’t seen Vivien Leigh’s portrayal, but I can imagine she’d do well as Anna.

      I read the book this year and fell in love with it. I’ll try to watch both of those versions this summer, while Tolstoy’s words are still fresh in my mind.

      Reply
      • Charity

        Vivien Leigh is the only actress who managed to make me feel truly sorry for Anna as she slowly went insane. Then again, I probably entered into it with a Scarlett O’Hara appreciation going on. ;)

        Everyone raves about the Greta Garbo adaptation too, but I didn’t find her performance that compelling. (I love Basil Rathbone, though! He was Karenin there — and Hollywood left out his entire redemptive arc! I FUMED.)

        Hope you enjoy the adaptations you do wind up watching. I think there’s a little something special about every single one. :)

        Reply
  6. Cassidy

    I loved it visually for all of these reasons, and I’m thrilled to finally find someone else who thinks it’s lovely! I’m a million percent more on board with productions that make inaccuracy an intentional part of the costume design than I am strange mixtures of fact and fiction.

    Reply
  7. Adina

    In all honesty, I felt like I would love it as an actual stage play, it was a really cool concept. But the acting was atrocious, I couldn’t wait for the train scene.

    Reply
  8. Wendi

    I only watched the first twenty minutes or so. For any other story, I might have loved the concept of having them onstage, and Anna moving from scene to scene, etc. Visually, the movie was gorgeous. I didn’t see enough costumes to really form an opinion. But AK is one of my very favorite novels, and I just didn’t feel like I was watching AK. It bugged me. Keira Knightley didn’t seem like Anna. So I gave up.

    Reply
  9. Faith Krcmarov

    I’m with you I LOVED the theatricality of this movie. I’m not a big fan of Kiera Knightley but the eye candy of this movie made her bearable.

    Reply
  10. Sarah Faltesek

    See, I never even liked the book (read it twice, 8 years apart), so the only things that made a film version bearable were Sean Bean, Sophie Marceau, and Alfred Molina, all in incredible costumes. I have zero interest in this version. Hell, if I watch the old version it’s on mute half the time because I just want to see the pretties. I make up new dialogue.

    Reply
  11. Janette

    “My” adaptation of Anna is the much earlier 1977 version staring Nicola Paget as Anna. Rather like Morag Hood’s Natasha in the 1971 War and Peace, I find it hard to accept any other person in the role. I have the film but have yet to watch it. I like the concept, as for me the scene in the theatre with the high society types spying on everyone else with their opera glasses really defines the story.
    Reading the blog though I would disagree with the depiction of Anna being a doll in the beginning. When the story starts Anna is a strong intelligent woman whose life is dull but well ordered. She is very active on “good committees” doing social work, but it is a life without passion. I would argue that she becomes more the doll type after falling in love. She falls into society claws.Her affair does not give her freedom. She is increasingly trapped by it.
    NIce to read in the comments above that A.K is so well loved.
    Oh and I need that red dress, not the off shoulder one but the one on the mannequin.
    Cheers
    Janette

    Reply
    • MoHub

      The 1977 version had Eric Porter as Karenin, and for that alone, I will always love it.

      Reply
  12. Angela

    I’m in the minority but I really loved the film. I think the key with this film, and with any other endeavour is to judge it on its own merits. Like going to the theatre and watching a staging of Hamlet – you’re not going to scowl and roll your eyes just because this staging differs from the last one you saw (and liked). Anna Karenina is one of my favourite novels, so I had high expectations but I think Stoppard’s script more than did the story and its core themes justice. I’m surprised no one has mentioned Kitty and Levin – they’re the highlight of the book for me and this version depicted them so beautifully through the great performances of Domnhall Gleeson and Alicia VIkander.

    I suspect that Marceau’s version was decried in the 1990s (I’m a bit too young to remember this, but it has terrible ratings on imdb) despite the love it’s getting now. Though the costumes were AMAZING in that version, I actually thought Marceau’s acting was abysmal. But to each their own – and btw Sarah, I love your site!

    Reply

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