The most epic love stories often demand that characters pay a price for love. This is particularly true for many female characters set in times past, who would lose children, social standing, and economic security upon choosing love over duty.
Many who discuss Leo Tolstoy‘s famed novel Anna Karenina focus on the infamous and torrid love affair of the titular character Anna Karenina and her Vronsky. But Tolstoy was not content to examine love from only one perspective. Rather, he presents three different women—Anna, Dolly, and Kitty—who are mired in the battle between love and duty, and who struggle with bonds tied by the social, moral, and political forces that rule their world. Brought back to the silver screen once again, the saga’s most recent adaptation is a visually-stunning illustration of those conflicts.
Directed by Joe Wright, and written by Tom Stoppard, Anna Karenina stars Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen, Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams, and Emily Watson, with appearances by Michelle Dockery, Holliday Grainger, Thomas Howes, and Shirley Henderson.
Each heroine’s struggle is defined by her starting point and subsequent actions:
Anna Karenina (Knightley) is the wife of Karenin (Law) and mother of Serhoza (Oskar McNamara). Upon engaging in a very public extramarital affair with Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson), Anna stands to lose the power, pomp, and comfort of her life as Karenin’s wife, as well as custody of her son. Is this is too high a price to pay for Vronsky’s passionate love that invigorates and enthralls her?
Dolly (Macdonald) is the wife of Anna’s brother Oblonsky (Macfadyen) and mother of his five children. Victimized by Oblonsky’s repeated sexual indiscretions—most recently with the nanny—Dolly questions whether she can remain married to a man who thinks so little of her and their marriage. But does she have the courage to forfeit her family for the sake of her self-respect and anger?
Kitty (Vikander), Dolly’s younger sister, is a matrimonially-eligible socialite looking to make a good match. Convinced that Vronsky is the socially-acceptable man for her, she refuses Levin (Gleeson), an outsider who worships the ground she walks on. After losing Vronsky to Anna, Kitty must decide what is more important to her: social approval or love?
In addition to their respective personal strife, each woman runs the risk that her choice will be deemed unacceptable by a truly grisly and unforgiving tribunal: the court of public opinion. Upon unfavorable judgment, the sentence of social exile is immediately imposed. After all, it is one thing to break the law, and quite another to break “the rules.”
How each lady fares in the trials and tribulations they face will not be spoiled here. Anna Karenina, its incredible artistry, and the strong performances of Knightley, Macdonald, Vikander, Law, Taylor-Johnson, Macfadyen, and Gleeson are sights worth seeing for yourself.
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Anna Karenina poster image: © 2012 – Focus Features. || This Chick’s Flicks logo: © 2012 Kristal Bailey.