Brow Beat

Trailer Critic: Anna Karenina

Keira Knightley plays Anna Karenina.

Keira Knightley plays Anna Karenina in the new film adaptation.

Photo by Laurie Sparham © Focus Features 2012.

It wouldn’t be the first time, of course, but it’s looking increasingly like this year’s holiday season—and Oscar season—will be a battle of costume dramas. Joining the recent trailers for The Great Gatsby and Les Misérables (not to mention other period pictures like The Master and Django Unchained), we now have director Joe Wright’s adaptation of Anna Karenina, which was written by the great playwright Tom Stoppard. Keira Knightley plays the title character, while Jude Law and Aaron Johnson portray the two lovers who fight over Anna’s affections and freedom.


While there’s no Watch the Throne blaring over Stepan’s internal struggles, Wright’s Anna Karenina looks to be a similarly snazzy affair (no pun intended). It opens with a conductor tapping his baton on a podium, and the feel of an elaborate staged performance, with the heavy hand of the artist at the helm, is sustained throughout.

That artist, judging from the trailer, is decidedly recognizable as Joe Wright. Wright seems to get more stylish with each film he does, from the beautifully shot Pride and Prejudice to his more audacious adaptation of Atonement all the way to his recent techo-fairy tale Hanna. Each of those movies is quite good (I’ll pass over the more manipulative Soloist). Here, though—especially since the book consciously and critically engages with the romance genre—all the pomp and heaving bosoms looks a bit sillier. That said, the movie doesn’t look stuffy, at least (apart from that gilded calligraphic font).

Knightley should have no trouble with the role of a civilized woman swept away with love: She’s honed her skills at it several times before, including in a couple of Wright’s. Jude Law, similarly, is great at playing men you love to hate, and I look forward to shaking my head at him once more. As for Aaron Johnson, it may take a little while to forget his title role in that other costume drama, Kick-Ass.

In the end, as with Les Misérables, my defenses are worn down by the high drama of all this. The depiction of 19th-century agricultural methods—a notoriously large portion of the book—is mercifully brief here, allowing more time for steamy trysts and the ominous sound of an approaching train. I won’t spoil what that all means (you can spoil it for yourself at around 2:17), but I have a hunch we’ll all soon feel run over—and I hold out hope that Wright and Stoppard will make us feel a bit more besides.

Grade: B

Previously from the Trailer Critic
Les Misérables
The Great Gatsby
James Bond in Skyfall
Gangster Squad
Ben Affleck’s Argo
Bill Murray as FDR in Hyde Park on Hudson
Beasts of the Southern Wild