With both Greta Garbo and Vivien Leigh having taken on the role, there’s little reason to expect that Jacqueline Bisset will bring Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy’s great heroine of czarist Russia to vivid, unforgettable life. The surprise, however, is just how respectably Bisset acquits herself. She looks ravishing, yet somehow ravaged at the center, torn by the uncontrollable emotions (maternal urges, lust, sense of duty, guilt) that eventually lead to her destruction. Once a mere beauty, Bisset, her face now a little lined and lived-in, has become a great one. As her lover, Count Vronsky, Christopher Reeve passes muster — but just. There’s much more passion in Paul Scofield as Anna’s jilted husband, Alexei, whose most famous line is ”I’m really quite a banal person.”

Originally made for TV and having the flat, textureless look of such endeavors, this 96-minute Anna Karenina was condensed from the much longer television version. The result is less a movie than a ”greatest hits” version of the book. Despite Bisset’s honorable efforts, it reduces a grave and complicated tale of passion, devotion, and confusion to a small-screen soap opera. C

Anna Karenina
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