US, 1985, 150 minutes, Colour.
Jacqueline Bissett, Christopher Reeve, Paul Scofield, Ian Ogilvy, Anna Massey, Judy Bowker.
Directed by Simon Langton.
Anna Karenina is a television adaptation and remake of Leo Tostoy's classic novel. It was filmed with Greta Garbo in the '30s and with Vivien Leigh in the 1940s. Jacqueline Bissett has a mixture of strength and fragility as Anna. Christopher Reeve is dashing in a more sympathetic portrayal of Vronsky. Paul Scofield is excellent as the dry and severe Karenin. There is a strong English supporting cast as well as Hungarians. The production was filmed, very lavishly, in the cities and mansions and countryside of Hungary. Direction is by Simon Langton (The Whistle Blower, Casanova).
The film has time to focus on more details of the novel than previous versions. The film focuses on Anna, her sheltered life, the infatuation with Vronsky, the conception of the child and the difficult birth, her neuroticism and dependence on morphine, her depression. Vronsky is not presented as quite the cad that Fredric March or Kieron Moore were.
The adaptation was done by James Goldman (The Lion in Winter).
1. The status of Tolstoy's novel as a classic? Film adaptations? Garbo and Vivien Leigh? A 19th century portrait of Russia? Society? Universal aspects of human nature?
2. The impact as telemovie: length, scope, more detail of the novel, making it accessible to a wide audience, style and tone?
3. The use of Hungarian locations, the re-creation of .19th. century atmosphere, pace, score? The stars and their style, presence, credibility?
5. The tragic story: the focus on Anna, her character, audience sympathy and understanding, the motif of the death by train? The infatuation, the fall, the change? Her death? The archetypal story? The triangle with Karenin as rigid and vindictive, Vronsky as dashing? Fidelity and infidelity? Passion and love?
6. Russia in the 19th century, society, tsarist Russia, elegance and fashion, expectations, moral stances', the law?
7. Anna as young in marrying Karenin, as a character, her love for her child, her devotion to her husband? Her not being separated from them? The mission to Moscow, her concern about her brother, about Dolly? The travelling, the encounter with the countess, with Vronsky? The success of her mission? Kitty and her being hurt at the dance by Vronsky and Anna? Her feeling guilty? Her return home, the clash with Vronsky, the infatuation? his pursuit of her? her reaction? Seeing each other over months? At social events? Karenin's reaction? The various meetings, the effect, the lies? her going to live with Vronsky? her pregnancy? change, her isolation? The difficulty of the birth, her fever? The visit of Stiva and Dolly? Karenin's vindictiveness? Her revival, passionate devotion to Vronsky, possessiveness? Morphine dependency? Vronsky concealing morphine from her? Her wanting the divorce, awaiting Karenin, his conditions about giving up? The gradual decline, her jealousy, the visit and the encounter with her son? Her growing jealousy, suspicions of Vronsky, going with the nurse, her desperate monologue in the train? Her reaction to the death of the man with the train earlier? The re-creation of the situation? Her killing herself?
8. Karenin as the bureaucrat, cold, his age, love for Anna? His devotion, discovery of the truth, harshness, his talk about revenge? The cover-up? The possibility of Anna's death? His forbidding her in the house, to see her son? The stringent divorce conditions? His bitterness?
9. The contrast with Vronsky, dashing, shallow, moral stances, encounter with Kitty, pursuit of Anna, succeeding, his devotion to her, wanting the divorce and marriage, the pregnancy, his daughter, having to cope, at his wits' end, under suspicion, his final cry at Anna's death?
10. Stiva and Dolly and the shaky marriage, the reconciliation thanks to Anna? Their continued support? Kitty and her infatuation, her grief, her marrying Levin and her happiness?
11. The sketch of the maids, the nurse and her continued support, the servants?
12. Anna and her relationship with her son, the neglect of her daughter?
13. The familiar ingredients of the classic novel? Tolstoy’s power? The universal story for all audiences?