After a much anticipation and breath-baiting, the trailer for the 2012 adaptation of Anna Karenina has finally arrived in aristocratic glory. Starring a cast of British movie royalty such as Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Johnson, Emily Watson and Kelly MacDonald – to name a few – the trailer boasts beautiful frocks, giant moustaches and fur stoles galore in the adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s tragic romantic classic.
Set in 19th Century Russian high society, Knightley portrays the charismatic Anna who begins a life-changing and doomed affair with the young Count Vronsky (Johnson). Here at Roobla we look at the lengthy novel that inspired Joe Wright’s dark and decadent portrayal of the Eastern European upper classes…
Published originally as a series from 1873 to 1877 in eight sections for The Russian Messenger, Tolstoy’s tale conjures up images of a hefty 800-plus page volume to rival Tolstoy’s most famous and highly important novel War and Peace. Whilst Hollywood has no doubt made the story seem slicker and more glamourous, it is sure to be just as scandalous and complex as its harrowing manuscript.
Anna Arkadyevna Karenina herself is, of course, the protagonist. She is married to senior statesman Count Alexei Androvitch Karenin and is part of the Russian aristocracy; a socialite in all the highest circles. The tale unravels when Karenina travels from St. Petersburg to Moscow in light of the discovery that her brother Prince Stepan Oblonsky ‘Stiva’ has betrayed his wife Darya ‘Dolly’ Alexandrovna.
It is a chance encounter at the Moscow train-station between Stiva and the Count Vronsky that Anna and Vronsky are introduced. As Vronsky becomes infatuated with the beautiful Anna, his flirtations with Dolly’s younger sister, 18-year old Princess Katerina Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya (known by her more pronounceable pet name, Kitty) cause her to believe him to be her match for marriage.
To complicate things further a man named Levin, a farmer who is a friend of Oblonsky, proposes to Kitty. She turns him down in hopes of attracting the attention of Vronsky, who is now – unfortunately for her – focussed on Anna. Heartbroken and in poor health, Kitty creates tension between herself and her sister Dolly who has since forgiven Oblonsky for his womanising on Anna’s advice, and the humiliated Kitty tries to win back the affection of the simple, homely Levin.
In falling for Vronsky’s advances, Anna soon realises that she is trapped in a loveless marriage with Karenin and pursues a relationship with Vronsky at her own expense, causing the gossip to quickly spread throughout her social circle. The story soars on the intensity of the pair’s early illicit and euphoric love affair before diving into desperation, loss of control and disappointment.
The novel, in typical Russian angst-ridden spirit is what Westerners would consider as incredibly dark and cruel to its characters. However, we find that Anna Karenina offers a simply more realist idea of marriage and its place in our lives. In other words, its what happens after the ‘happily ever after’.
We find that Anna, for all of her charm and intelligence, is a fool to love and unable to control her passions. However, it is her need for love, hypocrisy and impulsiveness that eventually destroy her. As Vronsky idly worships her, Anna loses everything that she once had, including her reputation. For her adultery she is cast out by those who were once her friends and is cut off from her son. Vronksy is discovered to not be the white knight Anna imagined, but a rather self-indulgent man who values pleasure much more than family. She becomes jealous that he has not been subjected to the same torment, fearing that he may further pursue other female interests.
Undoubtedly by contrast, the character Levin is based on Tolstoy himself, who firmly believed that ‘family’ sets us on the road to virtue. This will certainly make for interesting viewing in the film, with Levin being played by Domhnall Gleeson. Levin is used to illustrate some of the novel’s finer points, such as Tolstoy’s epiphany on religion and faith whilst his and Kitty’s marriage serves as a blueprint of ‘how to do it correctly’ for the fated couple Anna and Vronksy.
Without spoiling the September release of Anna Karenina, fans and bookworms will already know how the story ends. Watching their love turn sour is part of what makes Tolstoy’s novel a classic. It is not a story of great love, at least not in regards to Anna, but is a story of desire, jealousy and family togetherness. Tolstoy intended to illustrate how the upper classes contrasted to the agricultural and working classes as well as the accepted place of women in society, and he does so in beautifully descriptive, if not a little rambling, style. Though, who doesn’t love a good 800 page ramble!
With Greta Garbo, Vivien Leigh and Sophie Marceau to compete with in the previous cinematic adaptations, it seems that Knightley will do just fine as the enchanting, doe-eyed Anna and the pouting, tense woman she becomes as she is pulled towards a very sticky ending. Former adaptations have frequently been described as being visually stunning yet lacking in the novel’s rich content, however there is still time to prove literary critics wrong.
As one of the ‘must-reads’ of modern literature, Anna Karenina may not be as cheery as your faithful Harry Potter collection, nor as encouraging to fundamentally misguided relationships as Twilight, but it certainly packs a punch as one of the greatest novels of all time.
The film is released in the UK 7th September.