Keira Knightly plays the titular Anna and Jude Law is her ministerial 'saint' of a husband, Alexei Karenin. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays Count Alexei Vronsky. Using a myriad of ever-changing and flexible sets along with scenes of typical Russian landscapes, Wright has created a surrealist take on the novel. Every dance is stylised and some set pieces mimick staged theatre pieces while playing as straight realism.
Wright never lets the audience settle into a conventional period drama and the production design makes this version of the tragic story modern without losing the decadence of the setting. The costumes (designed by Jacqueline Durran) are sure to garner Oscar nods as the opulence of late 19th Century clothes is captured and celebrated. The script by Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love) is focused on the themes of love and forgiveness with nods to the agricultural social issues as espoused by the ever solid Domhnall Gleeson's Levin. Wright has chosen to have a primarily European cast speaking RP to make this a British rather than an obviously Russian film. Irish actor Gleeson, the Scottish Kelly MacDonald as Dolly and the Swedish Alicia Vikander as Kitty slip seamlessly in with the English cast.
Matthew Macfadyen as Anna's brother Oblonsky supplies the humorous relief to the ever mounting tragedy develops around Anna. Knightly is once again impressive, allowing the highly stylised approach to assist and not distract from her performance of a woman experiencing love and social denouncement. Jude Law provides a sympathetic, steady soberness to Karenin which adds to the complexity to his marriage with Anna and her affair with the Count. Taylor-Johnson is less of a screen presence, perhaps lost amongst the talents of Knightly and Law. An impressive supporting cast includes Emily Watson, Michelle Dockery and Olivia Williams.
Visually, the film is constant in its ambition with each frame as beautiful as the next. Some might object to the theatrical nature of the film but if this can be accepted - as with Lars von Trier's Dogville - then Wright's version of Tolstoy's classic can be viewed as an innovative piece pushing the accepted concepts of what a film 'is'. An open mind will allow the viewer to enjoy what is sure to be a much lauded film.