TRAGIC ROMANCE In Anna Karenina , Keira Knightley plays the title character in this unique adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's novel
Credit: Laurie Sparham

It takes a fair amount of excavating to reach Leo Tolstoy’s contribution to director Joe Wright’s very busy movie, written by playwright Tom Stoppard. The great Russian author’s 19th-century tale of unhappy families is in there somewhere: Anna (Keira Knightley) jeopardizes her marriage to dry, good Karenin (Jude Law, impressively sympathetic and self-effacing) when she falls passionately in love with the seductive cavalry officer Vronsky (pretty Aaron Taylor-Johnson); the compassionate landowner Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) pines for Princess Kitty (lovely Alicia Vikander, also in A Royal Affair); and so on. But in making the radical artistic choice to tell the story as if it were being enacted by players on a stage, Wright falls passionately in love with his own fanciful artifices. The director, who is prone to static filmmaking disguised as ”opulent” and loyal to his reedy, perpetually high-strung leading lady Knightley, has made an Anna Karenina that is excessively delighted with stagecraft and symbolism. (You see, everyone behaved as if on stage in Russian cosmopolitan society!) Stoppard — himself a master of puzzle-like construction in fine plays including Arcadia — supplies an excellently clean, delicately balanced script. But then, he’s adapting Tolstoy, who knew his stuff. B-

Anna Karenina
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