Starring: Vivien Leigh, Ralph Richardson, Kieron Moore
Director: Julien Duvivier
Running Time: 111 mins
Anna Karenina is a British film, based on Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel, about a married woman who, after falling in love and having an affair with a young officer, finds her life turned completely upside down.
This may not be the most highly praised adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, but it still has a lot of merits. Vivien Leigh is as stunning as usual in the central role, the directing is largely effective throughout, and despite maybe not hitting the high dramatic notes that the original story does, it keeps you interested in the main plot from start to finish.
Firstly, I have to say that I have not read or seen other films of Anna Karenina, so bear that in mind when reading this review, because I went into this completely blind of the entire plot.
So, let’s talk about the plot first. It follows a married woman in high society in 19th Century Russia who travels from her home in St. Petersburg to Moscow, where she meets a young army officer with whom she falls in love and begins to have an affair, causing serious complications in her relationship with her husband.
Although in such a high-stakes romantic drama you would think that this would be a passionate and hugely emotional film, it’s not quite that. The characters of Anna, her lover Vronsky and her husband Karenin are all fascinating to follow and learn about, but the problem is that you never get a really dramatic feel from this film, leaving it as only an interesting watch, but nothing more.
The most praiseworthy part of the film, however, is definitely Vivien Leigh’s performance. Leigh always puts in a captivating performance that drives a brilliant energy and strength into whatever character she plays, easily standing out in every scene she’s in, and it’s no different here, as she turns Anna Karenina, who isn’t a really strong Scarlett O’Hara-type character into a fully convincing and supportable person despite all the turmoil she goes through.
Finally, the direction by Julien Duvivier also deserves some credit. The set pieces and art direction is all sublime here, but Duvivier does an excellent job at making the film feel as icy cold as the setting in Russia, something that’s not easy to do on black-and-white film, and that really does add to the dramatic atmosphere of the story, even if the screenplay doesn’t quite deliver on the same level, so overall, I’m going to give Anna Karenina a 7.5.