Anna Karenina (1948): Starring Vivian Leigh, Kieron Moore, Ralph Richardson, Nial McGinis, Sally Ann Howes, Hugh Dempster, Mary Kerridge, Marie Lohr, Frank Tickle, Michael Gough, Martita Hunt, Heather Thatcher, Helen Haye, Mary Martlew, Ruby Miller, Austin Trevor, Ann South, John Logden, Gus Verney, Judith Nelmes, Therese Giese..Director Julien Duvivier, Screenplay Jean Anouilh "And the light by which she had read the book filled with troubles, flared up more brightly than ever before and was quenched forever"....
Leo Tolstoy's 1877 classic "Anna Karenina" has been adapted into films several times. The earliest are the silent films of 1914-1918, the more famous being the MGM 1935 film starring Greta Garbo, several versions in the 50's, 60's and 70's and recent BBC productions from 2000. French director Julien Duvivier's version stars Vivien Leigh, forever remembered for portraying Scarlett O'Hara in 1939's Gone With The Wind, in the title role, British star Ralph Richardson as her dishonored husband Alexei, Kieron Moore as Anna's lover Count Vronsky, Sally Anne Howes as Kitty and Nial McGinis as Konstantin Levin, who despite being a significant character in the Tolstoy novel, gets no more than two appearances in the film - the party scene in which he is rejected by Kitty who is drawn to the dashing Vronsky and the latter country scene in which Kitty finally accepts to be his bride. The emphasis of the film is Anna's tragic situation. She has turned her back on her husband by engaging in a passionate affair, broken all society rules in doing it so indiscreetly and publicly, and suffers the consequences. Her husband, staunch Catholic, more interested in appearances and society approval as well as business interests, won't grant her a divorce and won't grant her the right to see her son. Vivian Leigh, from the beginning when she arrives to remedy Stefan and Dolly's marriage, paints a tragic, incredibly sad and pathetic figure, looking morosely out of a frost-tainted train window. She lives the role of Anna without chewing up any scenes and delivering the most real Anna prior to the more recent adaptations. Her mental breakdown, spurred by insecurities that her lover will leave her and reject her as all society has done, is haunting and saddening to watch on screen, so that the moment of her death approaches, heralded by the ominous figure of a train worker hammering away, is climatic enough to provoke horror or sympathy. This being the 40's, the Hays Code permits only kissing scenes between the lovers but this film opts to show Anna's gruesome death with no hold bars. Because a faithful transition from novel to film is quite impossible, this Hollywood jewel doesn't convey every aspect of the novel, especially not the relationship between Kitty and Levin and though long and talky, doesn't begin to fully capture the spirit of the book. Nonetheless, for me, it's the best film version in black-and-white. The cinematography is so exquisite with its depiction of Imperial Russia and its grand salons, palaces, train stations, opera houses and the costumes by Cecil Beaton so gorgeous that one wishes the film were made in Technicolor instead!! It is faithful to the more intimate parts of the novel, not only in the tidbits of Alexei's habit of cracking his knuckles and his treatment of Anna but Anna's black gown at a ball. The characters are full of nuance, particularly Anna's high society women's group, especially one cynical, gossipy Countess who is not afraid to admit she'd enjoy Roman gladiators spilling blood. Ralph Richardson is doing a superior job as Alexei, making him appear coldly indifferent to his wife even before she falls for Vronsky, and then later portraying him as a self-interested society man. Unfortunately Kieron Moore does nothing truly wonderful in the part of Vronsky, which is a pity because Vronsky and Anna must possess a powerful, fiery and consuming, sacrificial affair that costs them everything. Unfortunately, this film was not received well in its time, possibly overshadowed by Greta Garbo's version, but it's genuinely moving and highly recommended to English classes who study the novel.
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