With some notable exceptions, film productions of Victorian-era novels are cul-de-sacs. So why does the 2012 production of Anna Karenina look so tempting? Maybe it’s just a side-effect of movie trailers having become more important pieces of art than the movies themselves. Maybe it’s because Konstantin Levin, Tolstoy’s avatar in the novel, looks satisfyingly like Tolstoy, played by Domhnall Gleeson. Or is it the ‘screenplay by Tom Stoppard’ message that rounds off the trailer? I certainly don’t know. But it looks good. With reservations.
From the trailer it looks like all the strands of the novel are kept intact. I imagine they’ll foreground the romantic-tragedy aspect, as the trailer has, but it seems like the rest won’t be lost. There’s Vronsky looking vain and preened. There’s Levin chopping at the wheat, thinking he’s a peasant. That ‘romantic love will be the last illusion of the old order’ line made me cringe a bit: it seems like a villain is saying it, rather than, well, Tolstoy. Don’t let that be true (update: the line is given to Levin, the closest thing we have to a Tolstoy analogue in the novel).
Jude Law is also a strange choice for Karenin, who’s supposed to be hard as a pebble, whereas Law is a wafer-thin mint that has somehow tricked the world into seeing him as a period actor. Obviously Anna is Kiera Knightly, because she’s the only actress who looks like what women used to look like. Apparently.
Am I an Anna Karenina fanboy? Well, no. I got about 2/3 of the way through the book about two months ago. After that, I evoked the catharsis of exhaustion. I felt like it was starting to cash bad cheques. The problem with novels that were published in serial instalment is that the writer was financially or contractually obliged to keep the story going well past natural endings.
But if I finish rereading Orhan Pamuk’s masterpiece this week, then Anna Karenina will be my plane and airport reading, so let’s see. I may eat my words. When it’s good, it’s some of the best literature produced anywhere in the world. It’s not always good.
I will go see the film. But if the movie trailer itself is cashing bad cheques, there will be hell to pay. It will take the form of critical blog posts, suffused with a sense of betrayal. And is there any deeper circle of hell?
Update: It was fine but forgettable. Move on, people – nothing to see here.