15 August 2006 | heather_m1986
A Taut Adaptation of a Daunting, Sprawling novel
This Masterpiece Theatre production gives life to Tolstoy vast and ambitious masterpiece. It's a formidable task considering that Tolstoy was often a deeply psychological writer and spent hours probing the souls of his characters. That being said, the cast in this adaptation do a marvelous job in conveying their character's profound and often misguided humanity.
Tolstoy co-protagonists, Anna Karenina and Constantine Levin are both idealists searching for love and meaning. Helen McCrory is not an obvious choice for Anna but the character has suffered from being played by picture perfect actresses who have trouble conveying Anna's passion. Helen McCrory's is believable as a mature woman who is seemingly very comfortable in her skin and has the grace and power to make men fall easily in love with her.
Douglas Hensall plays Levin with gentleness as a sensitive, conflicted man plagued by doubt and his own inadequacies.He romance with Kitty is sweet and understated. His Scottish accent, beard, and awkward manners lend to his rusticism. However, as with any adaptation of Anna Karenina, much of Levin struggles with his own conflicted personal morality and faith are left out.
The best performance comes from Stephen Dillane as Anna's dour, principled husband. A man who believes in keeping his emotions in check, Dillane's Karenin is a man who's suffering his wife's betrayal and is conflicted between the desire to punish her and his love for her. In the novel Karenin is a homely man in his fifties, but here he is far handsomer and about 10 years younger which is helpful because it prevents viewers from believing that Anna deserts old, ugly husband simply because he is old and ugly.
Also of note is Mark Strong as Anna's bon vivant brother, Stiva, who, as in the book, remains likable despite being irresponsible and faithless to his wife, Dolly. Paloma Baeza, Amanda Root and Kevin McKidd also turn in fine performances and Levin's sweetheart, Dolly and Anna's lover, respectively.
The film's use hand-held cameras, quick cuts, and odd angles were at times interesting and at times, very distracting. Admittedly,it was nice to see a period film not shot in the very staid and static fashion of most period films. This production is full of movement: train chug by, people run upstairs, skirts billow, couples argue violently.
It has been said that readers should take Anna Karenina as a "piece of life" and this adaptation has an accessibility and realism and lacks that daunting glossy "period film" sheen. These people are people who could live in our time or any time