Yes, it's rather strange, but it's also drop-dead gorgeous.
Knightley reteams with Pride & Prejudice and Atonement director Wright to deliver another solid performance as Anna, an aristocrat in 1870s St Petersburg who is married to the achingly nice establishment gent Alexei (Law) but falls under the spell of the bland but sexy young heartbreaker Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson). And when she gets pregnant, she has to make a very difficult decision. The central theme is that these people are characters in a play dictated to them by their restrictive Russian society, so they have little choice but head toward tragedy.
Fortunately, there's a parallel plot about a wealthy farmer (Gleeson) who rejects so-called civilised society to stay in touch with the earth. He pursues the smart, young Kitty (Vikander), also entranced with Vronsky but beginning to become disgusted with so-called civilised culture. The film includes a rather huge number of characters, including Anna's womanising brother (Macfadyen) and his longsuffering wife (a particularly excellent Macdonald). And Wright and Stoppard effortlessly let everyone swirl around each other in a huge pool of emotion.
Although this pool often feels frozen over, as the feelings are pretty icy. So it's good to have open-hearted performances by Macdonald and Gleeson to hold our interest. Knightley is excellent, although we never understand why Anna does anything she does (which is the whole point). But perhaps the most impressive thing about this film is its astoundingly beautiful design: the sets, costumes, photography and music are sumptuous and lush, never fussy but always adding to the intensity of each scene. Look for it to deservedly hoover up Oscar nominations across the board.
Run time: 129 mins
In Theaters: Friday 7th September 2012
Box Office USA: $12.8M
Distributed by: Focus Features
Production compaines: Universal Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 63%
Fresh: 111 Rotten: 66
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: Joe Wright
Screenwriter: Tom Stoppard
Starring: Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina, Jude Law as Alexei Karenin, Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Count Vronsky, Kelly Macdonald as Dolly, Matthew Macfadyen as Oblonsky, Michelle Dockery as Princess Myagkaya, Emily Watson as Countess Lydia, Olivia Williams as Countess Vronskaya, Ruth Wilson as Princess Betsy, Holliday Grainger as The Baroness, Alexandra Roach as Countess Nordston, Domhnall Gleeson as Levin, Alicia Vikander as Kitty, Bill Skarsgård as Captain Machouten, Raphaël Personnaz as Alexander, Eros Vlahos as Boris, Kenneth Collard as Prince Tverskoy, Tannishtha Chatterjee as Masha, Hera Hilmar as Varya, John Bradley as Austrian Prince, Thomas Howes as Yashvin, Shirley Henderson as Opera House Wife