“I need to know if he still loves me”
Joe Wright’s film version of Anna Karenina was, for me, a hugely under-rated piece of work, a sumptuous feast for the eyes in his inimitable style. But I can see it might not be to everyone tastes, which is where the 2000 mini-series should step in as an ideal replacement. Stretching out luxuriously over four hours, David Blair’s production of Tolstoy’s classic, adapted by Allan Cubitt, is something quite close to triumphant, not least for a desperately compelling performance from Helen McCrory as Anna but from a detailed realisation of so many aspects of the novel.
For though the tragic love triangle of Anna, Karenin and Vronsky is the best known strand of the story, Levin and Kitty’s relationship is just as significant in the grand scheme of things and there’s also room here for a fully-fleshed version of Anna’s brother Oblonsky and his wife Dolly. The way in which the multiple lines are followed is expertly done and begins to do some justice to the weight tome that is the piece of literature on which it is based.
McCrory delivers a customarily impassioned performance as the conflicted and complex Anna, a victim of both the impulsive nature she cannot ignore and the societal hypocrisy that condemns the publicness of her impropriety. As her lover Count Vronsky, Kevin McKidd is good but Stephen Dillane is mesmerising as the cuckolded Karenin, torn between wanting her back and wanting to punish her which he manages to do quite spectacularly.
Mark Strong and Amanda Root are good fun as Oblonsky and Dolly, working their way through his own infidelities. And there’s great work from Douglas Henshall as the tortured Levin, gently falling into a most romantic partnership with Paloma Baeza’s Dolly who helps him with his crippling doubts and lack of faith. Deborah Findlay and Abigail Cruttenden pop up as doyennes of the society that turns its back on Anna, and the overall effect is of a most personal take on an epic tale