You know what it's like: you take a notion to go to the cinema and just rock up and see what's on. You can never be sure what your choice will be - and you may end up seeing something with little advance knowledge. So it was on Saturday when I ended up at the Cineworld in Fountainbridge in Edinburgh. Total Recall and The Bourne Legacy were both tempting - especially Total Recall in IMAX format - but there was a shorter wait for Anna Karenina and so she won out.
Now, my knowledge of the Classics is limited. My knowledge of the Russian Classics is even worse. That said, I had already decided that a little bit of education would do me good and this is the basis on which Anna Karenina was on my list of things to watch.
I was also intrigued by knowing that the film was set in a theatre - having heard about this on the wireless in an interview with the director who had described his experiences of searching for locations. Visiting stately mansions in Britain he would be told how they had been used for previous Keira Knightley films. Visiting similar properties in Russia, he would be told how they had been used for many adaptations of Anna Karenina already. Anxious not to make a retread of previous films he decided on the conceit of using a theatrical setting instead.
Much of the film inhabits the sumptuous world of the Russian Aristocracy and has a lavish feel with occasional trips to the more austere surroundings of the Karenina family home in St. Petersburg and the impoverished home of one Nikolai Levin. The revolution which is apparently imminent is hinted at reasonably early on by Levin but as the film continued it became more and more apparent that this wasn't going to actually happen on screen. This is probably because, as I now know, the book was published some 30 years prior to it!
Knightley is good as the flighty Anna, bored at home in St. Petersburg with Alexai Karenin (played impressively by Jude Law, although I had to be informed of this afterwards!) and flaunting herself in Moscow Society with another Alexai - Vronsky. Love and Fidelity are fickle friends, though, and those that spurn the love of others are not immune from being spurned in turn.
In the absence of a broader political background - such as the hoped for revolution - the story becomes just a love story. (At this point, I began to wish I had paid closer attention to the posters which touted it as "an epic story of love".) Yes, it is a lavish, complicated, intense love story, but a love story none the less. For an old cynic like me (who is also not a fan of period dramas) this is not a film I would recommend. If epic love stories, sumptuous costumes and theatrically-shot films are your thing, though, then this is going to be a real treat.