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Style over substance; Tolstoy's classic novel has been adapted for the big screen with Keira Knightley as the heroine. But does director Joe Wright succeed with this new translation? Alison Jones casts a critical eye.

Anna Karenina 12A, 130 mins It was Pirates Of The Caribbean that made Keira Knightley a star but it was Pride & Prejudice (2005) that set her on the path to becoming a credible actress. So no one can blame her for accepting director Joe Wright's return invitation to play another great literary heroine, Anna Karenina.

He even brought her Mr Darcy along for the cinematic ride, casting Matthew Macfadyen as her womanising brother, Oblonksy.

But the tormented Anna is a colder kettle of fish than the spirited Lizzy Bennet.

Loving yet hypocritical, passionate yet tormented, Knightley's Anna is both 'heroine and anti heroine', a woman who abandons her own life and child for lust and love and is ultimately undone by it.

Adapted from Tolstoy's 1877 novel by Tom Stoppard, Wright's Anna K is stunning to look at.

Not just the luminous Knightley, who looks like she has stepped from the pages of Russian Vogue, but all the costumes and sets as well.

He has staged it as if it is in a theatre, the actors wandering about on and back stage as if they are in ordinary streets with life being played out amid the props and backcloths.

It is strange at first as one waits for the film to open out, yet it does so only occasionally.

What Wright accomplishes within these curious confines is often truly remarkable, even sending a horse race thundering across the boards.

But this also keeps the audience at a distance, reminding us that we are watching merely players and preventing us from truly engaging with Anna, her dissatisfaction with her dull marriage to the honourable and well-respected Karenina (Jude Law), and willingness to be swept away with a glance from Vronsky's limpid blue eyes.

Vronsky himself has been transformed from the dark and dangerous figure of the novel to a gilded youth with golden cherubic curls, played by Aaron Johnson.

While he and Anna make a spectacularly pretty pair, this Vronsky seems out of his depth at dealing with the morphine-induced mood-swings of an older woman who, having won her prize at the cost of her son and position in society, is tormented by the idea that he will grow distracted and bored, lured away by youth, beauty and a title.

There is also the parallel romance of Kitty and Levin, the farmer who wins back the Princess after she is spurned by Vronsky.

Though it does not have the melodrama of Anna and Vronsky, it is far deeper and more affecting, a near wordless scene with child's building blocks wonderfully touching.

It is easier to be moved by the sub-plots, to wonder how much better the film might have been had Kelly Macdonald played Anna rather than her cuckolded sister-in-law (infidelity seems to be a family failing).

We marvel not at what it is, but what it could have been.

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Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina with her husband Karenina, Jude Law, and below with Vronsky played by Aaron Johnson
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 7, 2012
Words:500
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