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United Kingdom 1948
Directed by
Julien Duvivier
139 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Anna Karenina (1948)

Leo Tolstoy is well-known for the size of his tomes and perhaps this is the major stumbling block for this otherwise worthy British film adaptation of the story of Anna Karenina (Vivien Leigh) and her extra-marital affair with Count Vronsky (Kieron Moore). Sub-plots introduced at the outset, notably that involving Anna’s friends, the young Kitty Scherbatsky (Sally Ann Howes) and philandering husband Stefan Oblonsky (Hugh Dempster), largely evaporate and even the main story of the relationship between Anna and the dashing cavalryman experiences a sudden gear shift early in the piece with Anna going from the threshold of her affair to nearly dying of childbirth in a single cut.

The sheer volume of the story also makes for a certain stop-start unevenness (originally released at 139m the film was later cut to 111m) to the emotional trajectory of the narrative as Anna nearly dies, appears to reconcile with her husband (Ralph Richardson), resumes with Vronksy, the affair unravels and so on before an oddly symbolic ending. In part, this also impinges on the performances which seem quite uninvolved. In the case of Anna and her husband this makes sense but there is nothing apparent between Leigh and Kieron Moore, an actor who was in nothing else of note despite a career that ran to the mid-70s, to suggest the grand passion that derails Anna’s comfortable life.

One of Tolstoy’s concerns was to depict the rigid class mores of Russian society and the film does that well enough, albeit Leigh and Richardson adopt plummy English accents with Richardson further affecting a Coward-like diction giving the film a rather generically Anglo-aristocratic manner. The art direction and costume design, featuring some nice work from Cecil Beaton, make this an impressive  production which was overseen by Vladamir Wiemzemski as historical advisor. Leigh who was married to Laurence Olivier at the time and suffering from psychological problems makes for an attractively fragile Anna although her performance is quite subdued. Anna Karenina is a solid costumier but not one to get the pulse racing.

DVD Extras: Featurettes: Tolstoy, The Man Behind Anna; The Tolstoy Legacy; Film restoration comparison; Stills gallery.

Available from: Shock Entertainment




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