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December 2010

Anna Karenina

cast: Claire Bloom, Sean Connery, Albert Lieven, Valerie Taylor, and Jack Watling

director: Rudolph Cartier

105 minutes (PG) 1961
Simply Media DVD Region 2

RATING: 6/10
review by Alexandra Bunning

Anna Karenina

Anna (Claire Bloom) is a beautiful Russian aristocrat, who, like many aristocratic women of the time, is trapped in a loveless marriage. Her husband, Alexei Karenin (Albert Lieven), seems cold and emotionless towards her. They have a son, Sergei, upon whom she dotes.

At the beginning of the film, Anna has travelled to Moscow at the behest of her brother Stiva (Jack Watling), who has been unfaithful to his wife Dolly (Daphne Andersen), and hopes that Anna's presence in the house might help matters. On the train she meets Countess Vronsky (Valerie Taylor), and as they arrive in Moscow, Anna meets the Countess' son Alexis Vronsky (Sean Connery), who falls immediately in love with her. During this fateful meeting, a railway worker falls onto the train track and dies, prompting Anna to believe this is a bad omen.

Despite her misgivings, Anna is eventually persuaded by Vronsky's passionate speeches to enter into an affair with him, and as time goes on and the affair becomes common knowledge, she leaves Karenin to openly become Vronsky's lover, and in so doing, is cut off from Sergei. Shunned by society and friends, and unable to see her son, Anna throws herself into her relationship with Vronsky. He, however, still has his friends, family and reputation. As Vronsky shows an interest in a life excluding her, Anna's jealousy and desperation grow.

This BBC TV-movie of Leo Tolstoy's classic Anna Karenina does exactly what it says on the tin. Despite some reservations, I quite enjoyed this adaptation. The acting overall, is a great deal better than I'd anticipated, although done in such a stereotypically British 'stiff-upper-lip' fashion I had to keep reminding myself it was set in Russia. Bloom is quite convincing as Anna, particularly as the stress of her affair with Vronsky, and the loss of her son, start to affect her. Connery is relatively good as Vronsky, although he certainly portrays him a rather unforgiving light. Lieven steals the show as the jilted Karenin, portraying a normally self-possessed man desperately trying to claw back some dignity after the wife he still desires has left him.

The sets are understandably dated, and through at times they seemed very cinematic (particularly the scenes at the railway stations) many others seemed rather low-budget. The soundtrack too, is very dated and rather overly dramatic for me, but it is minimal, so quite easy to dismiss. The film quality is not the greatest, but not bad at all considering its age.

A great deal of the original narrative has been cut, leaving only the bare bones of the plot between Anna and Vronsky. As such, I would say that if you are a great fan of Tolstoy, you may find yourself irritated that so many of the characters and subplots are missing. The overall feel is more of a televised play than that of a movie, and this is hardly surprising as it was adapted from the French play by Marcelle Maurette. Overall, however, I'd say this is worth a watch, not only to see Connery in a film before he shot to James Bond fame, but also for its own merits.



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