Much like the Academy voters, I am a total sucker for period dramas starring Keira Knightley. They’re not always great, but man, are they pretty. Joe Wright’s new adaptation seems like the hundredth version of Anna to make it to the screen, but it is instantly recognizable as one of the most original. Tom Stoppard’s screenplay sets most of the action on an actual stage that moves with the characters. It’s initially difficult to adjust to this conceit, but it makes so much sense in conjunction with the novel’s themes that it eventually becomes almost unnoticeable. The constant flux of the sets also serves to establish a quick, driving pace that keeps the film from feeling too stiff or boring.
Though the role is somewhat darker than her usual fare, Knightley is fantastic as Anna, the gorgeous society woman reluctant to accept that her extramarital relationship with a young cavalry officer (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) could destroy her aristocratic lifestyle. But the real stars here are the supporting cast: Matthew Macfadyen as Anna’s garrulous brother Oblonsky, Kelly Macdonald as his scorned wife Dolly, Ruth Wilson as sarcastic Princess Betsy, and Domhnall Gleeson as lovelorn Levin (who often gets the shaft in film versions). At times, the theater-as-life concept creates too much emotional distance from the characters, but the actors give such human, sympathetic performances that even the biggest Anna fans will find themselves hoping for a happier ending.
By Eliza C. Thompson