Anna Karenina Cast
: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Johnson, Kelly MacDonald Director
: Joe Wright Genre
: Drama Rated
: MARunning Time
: 130 minutesSynopsis
: Anna Karenina is acclaimed director Joe Wright's bold, theatrical new vision of the epic story of love, stirringly adapted from Leo Tolstoy's great novel by Academy Award winner Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love). The film marks the third collaboration of the director with Academy Award-nominated actress Keira Knightley and Academy Award-nominated producers Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, and Paul Webster, following their award-winning box office successes Pride & Prejudice and Atonement.
The creative team also includes cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (The Avengers), three-time Academy Award-nominated production designer Sarah Greenwood (Sherlock Holmes), film editor Melanie Ann Oliver (Jane Eyre), hair and make-up designer Ivana Primorac (Hanna), Academy Award-winning composer Dario Marianelli (Atonement), and two-time Academy Award-nominated costume designer Jacqueline Durran (Pride & Prejudice).
The timeless story powerfully explores the capacity for love that surges through the human heart, while illuminating the lavish society that was imperial Russia. The time is 1874. Vibrant and beautiful, Anna Karenina (Ms. Knightley) has what any of her contemporaries would aspire to; she is the wife of Karenin (Jude Law), a high-ranking government official to whom she has borne a son, and her social standing in St. Petersburg could scarcely be higher. She journeys to Moscow after a letter from her philandering brother Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) arrives, asking for Anna to come and help save his marriage to Dolly (Kelly Macdonald). En route, Anna makes the acquaintance of Countess Vronsky (Olivia Williams), who is then met at the train station by her son, the dashing cavalry officer Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). When Anna is introduced to Vronsky, there is a mutual spark of instant attraction that cannot - and will not - be ignored.
The Moscow household is also visited by Oblonsky's best friend Levin (Domhnall Gleeson), an overly sensitive and compassionate landowner. Levin is in love with Dolly's younger sister Kitty (Alicia Vikander). Inopportunely, he proposes to Kitty but she is infatuated with Vronsky. Devastated, Levin returns to his Pokrovskoe estate and throws himself into farm work. Kitty herself is heartbroken when, at a grand ball, Vronsky only has eyes for Anna and the married woman reciprocates the younger man's interest.
Anna struggles to regain her equilibrium by rushing home to St. Petersburg, where Vronsky follows her. She attempts to resume her familial routine, but is consumed by thoughts of Vronsky. A passionate affair ensues, which scandalises St. Petersburg society. Karenin is placed in an untenable position and is forced to give his wife an ultimatum. In attempting to attain happiness, the decisions Anna makes pierce the veneer of an image-obsessed society, reverberating with romantic and tragic consequences that dramatically change her and the lives of all around her. Anna Karenina
: February 14th, 2013 Website
From Novel to Screenplay to Unique Setting
The enduring power of Leo Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina is summed up by Anna Karenina director Joe Wright: "Everybody is trying in some way to learn to love."
Keira Knightley, who stars in Joe Wright's boldly theatrical new movie as Anna, comments, "The story is one we understand today because people still want something they cannot have, still come up against social blocks and rules, and still have trouble communicating emotions to each other."
Joe Wright reflects, "When I read the book, it spoke directly to the place that I found myself at in life. You hope you are like one of the characters, and you realise that you have been like another of the characters. They are all perfectly true, and terrifyingly close."
It was Joe Wright who approached his longtime collaborators Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, producers and co-chairmen of Working Title Films, about the potential of taking Anna Karenina to the big screen with their frequent leading lady Knightley starring.
"This was a huge novel, a great big love story that had been adapted before. We knew we needed to have a screenwriter who would bring something to the party," remarks Tim Bevan. Academy Award-winning screenwriter and playwright Tom Stoppard was the only writer Joe Wright had in mind to adapt the classic book.
Tom Stoppard admits, "I was really keen to do it. It's true that I think of myself principally as someone who writes for the theatre. But I don't manage to come up with a full-length play all that often. While I enjoy doing film work of different kinds in-between, not every overture is as promising as Joe Wright directing a film of one of the great novels."
Tim Bevan notes, "Tom Stoppard read the book and looked at previous miniseries and film versions - including one in Russian. Anna Karenina is a rich tapestry containing many different themes and philosophies on the complexities of class, politics, moral behaviour, and love - across hundreds of pages. There are interweaving, and interrelated, narratives and characters.
"We noticed that the previous adaptations had focused primarily on Anna, even though the novel is not only her story but also the parallel story of Levin, and realised that his progress enhances a very strong narrative."
Producer Paul Webster says, "Two arcs - Anna's and Levin's - meet in the middle of their trajectories across the human heart. One is tragic, and the other is uplifting."
Tim Bevan adds, "Ian McEwan, the author of Atonement, said to me that he felt Levin-with-Kitty is the greatest love story in literature. Levin's story was slightly autobiographical for Tolstoy."
Joe Wright says, "Tolstoy wrote the novel to be accessible in terms of its emotions. His analysis of motivation and character is so extraordinary, so acute. In our conversations, Tom Stoppard and I realised that we both felt the same way about the characters."
With Tom Stoppard, Joe Wright explored every avenue of the story over many hours, stating that "this was an amazing opportunity to learn from a master. For me, every film is an education. Certainly Tom Stoppard was well-versed in Russian history and culture and identity. We felt that we could get more to the heart of Anna, Levin, and all the characters by contemplating love among Imperial Russian society in the 1870s. I was also thinking about the movies in which Robert Altman masterfully interweaved intimate stories. The narrative threads we chose work as a kind of double helix, winding around each other in a multi-stranded portrait of a community; for example, Oblonsky is a catalyst in both threads, as he is Anna's brother in need of help and Levin's friend trying to help."
Tim Bevan adds, "As Eric and I know from making movie adaptations of a number of books over the years, the length and breadth of a novel cannot be transferred in its entirety for the duration of a feature film.
"But at around 130 pages, Tom Stoppard's screenplay beautifully captures the essence of the novel without compromising character or story, by illuminating that main theme which runs throughout the novel: love, in all its forms."
Tom Stoppard elaborates, "There is love, mother love, baby love, sibling love, carnal love, love of Russia, and so forth. The word 'love' is central to the book, and to our movie. I decided not to work on including those parts of the novel that might be about something else. We are honouring the scope of the book."
Tim Bevan realised that what was taking shape was "something big for the audience to delve into. They can disappear into a world of emotion and character, which I believe makes for great cinema."
Two-time Academy Award nominee Jude Law, who plays the crucial role of Anna's husband, Alexei Karenin, read the script and found it "remarkable. I read it before I'd even tackled the book, and in its own right it is so rich. In this adaptation, you never feel that one character was being isolated as a device; each character seemed very precisely drawn.
"The piece looks at different angles of love and relationships, honestly and openly and without judgement. There is such an elegance to the way Tom Stoppard writes dialogue. It's masterful screenwriting; going from that to reading the novel itself, I realised just how hard that must have been to do."
Paul Webster remarks, "People in this story fall in and out of love, and in order to feel moved by something you've also got to feel enlightened by it; there is a great deal of wit in Tom Stoppard's adaptation, which helps to illustrate the story's points."
Tom Stoppard notes, "Leo Tolstoy's book packs a hell of a wallop. It was daunting going in, but I so enjoyed the work."
By the spring of 2011, the script was ready and location scouting was taking place across Russia and the U.K. Bevan remembers, "Going to the Tolstoy house near Moscow, after taking the night train there from St. Petersburg in the middle of winter was a fantastic trip that gave everyone a sense of Anna's own journey."
Yet Joe Wright still found himself wanting to take his version of Anna Karenina in a new direction, rather than following in the footsteps of previous adaptations by filming at established Russian locations - or retracing his own footsteps in stately homes across the U.K. where he had previously filmed.
So it was that, some two months before the commencement of principal photography, the director made a bold decision to take a more theatrical approach in making an epic love story.
Paul Webster says, "Joe Wright never wants to make 'another period movie,' so when he made the decision to theatricalise Anna Karenina we were guaranteeing audiences a different take on this story than any other version they might have seen - and, an accessible one."
Recalling that two of his previous films were also not "another period movie," Joe Wright reflects, "I like exploring the form and being expressive. One of the things I enjoyed about making Pride & Prejudice and Atonement was that each of those films had a large portion shot in one location - which in fact engendered a lot of creative freedom. I thought, if I could set Anna Karenina largely in one place, then what and where would it be?
"What came to me was a passage in [British historian] Orlando Figes' [2002 book] Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia where he's describing St. Petersburg high society as people living their lives as if upon a stage. Orlando Figes' thesis is that Russia has always suffered from an identity crisis, not quite knowing whether it's part of the East or part of the West. During the period Anna Karenina was written in and about, Russians decided they were definitely part of Western Europe and that they wanted to be cultured like the French."
Tom Stoppard notes, "Here was a society that tried to be the equal of Paris in opera, literature, and all the arts."
Joe Wright elaborates, "They dressed as French people and they read books on the etiquette of how to behave like a French person. Their ballrooms were often mirrored so that they could watch themselves and appreciate their own 'performances' as French people, and they were advised to keep one side of the mind French and one side Russian. The Russian side was always observing and checking the French side to make sure that you were behaving, or 'performing,' correctly. Their whole existence became a performance with imported ideas of decorum, manners, and culture."
Keira Knightley offers, "You had these people - a whole society - who were pretending to be something they weren't, all the time."
Joe Wright adds, "Anna plays the role of being a dutiful wife up until the point where she meets Count Vronsky, but everyone else in her circle is always acting. So I realised, 'Okay, we could situate this film in a theatre.'"
From there, the concept crystallised; to present St. Petersburg and Moscow's rarefied circles of the 1870s in all their theatricality, Joe Wright decided that "the action would be taking place within a beautiful decaying theatre, which in itself would be omnipresent, a metaphor for Russian society of the time as it rotted from the inside. Yet we would also adhere to Tom Stoppard's adaptation, with the story taking place oblivious to the artifice surrounding it.
"The producers had amazing faith in me, but the person I was most scared of telling about this was Tom Stoppard because he'd written this script which was brilliant and perfect and set in the way he'd envisaged the film. At first he was nervous, but then he came 'round. I took his text and transposed it from real locations to the stylised location; every single event and word in his adaptation was shot."
Tom Stoppard remembers, "Joe Wright told me he didn't want to alter the script - aside from the scene, or stage, directions - but at first I didn't know what I thought. He then came to see me with this scrapbook which contained the film as he now saw it. Seeing it, I put my money on him to pull this off."
Tim Bevan comments, "We've all made movies that are 'period films.' But we make them because we are compelled by the characters, and by their world that can be created for a movie that an audience can explore. Our excitement hopefully translates to the screen.
"So a new approach to the telling, both in terms of Joe Wright's aesthetic and Tom Stoppard's adaptation, became this movie's raison d'être. With it, we follow Levin journeying into the real world, but Anna's odyssey is contained within the theatre."
"Contained," and yet visually expansive; the immense 1870s Russian theatre location was to come to life and transform before the eyes of the audience. Webster assesses the effect as "magical. You're going through doors into snowy landscapes, into mazes. The theatre space hosts an ice rink, a ball, an opera, a massive society soirée, and a horse race. This is a vast, sprawling movie.
"Everything springs from Joe Wright's imagination; he has always been interested in crossing boundaries among theatre and film and theatrical presentation, always looking at finding new ways to explore them visually. Aesthetically, Anna Karenina is a leap forward for him."
Joe Wright reflects, "It was also a way to better express the essence of the narrative, and to get to the essence of the scenes; I would be treating Tom Stoppard's script in the way a theatre director would a play's text.
"The heart of the story is the human heart. I am forever fascinated by why and how love works, and how sincere we are as human beings with our emotions." Company Convenes
When gearing up to make a movie, director Joe Wright is known for his intense preparation work. The filmmaker actively collaborates with many of the same talented craftspeople and actors from movie to movie, which creates a familiarity and the feeling of a company of players - an important personal and professional link to the world of theatre he grew up in with his own family.
For Joe Wright, this familiarity is a vital part of his moviemaking process. He reveals, "I find the whole process of making a film totally terrifying and so to have the support of people I feel loved and accepted by is really important; these are also people who I trust in terms of their creative and artistic sensibilities."
So it is that Anna Karenina marks Joe Wright's fourth film with Working Title Films producers Tim Bevan and Fellner; his third with producer Paul Webster; and his third with leading lady Keira Knightley. This established creative team of Academy Award nominees, united on the previous successes Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, works collectively alongside the director to bring his vision to the screen.
Part and parcel of the team effort as well are Joe Wright's permanent production designer Sarah Greenwood and set decorator Katie Spencer (who have also done the Sherlock Holmes movies); his regular costume designer Jacqueline Durran (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy); his frequent hair and make-up designer Ivana Primorac (Hanna); his past (and now present) film editor Melanie Ann Oliver (Jane Eyre); composer Dario Marianelli, who won an Academy Award for Atonement; casting director Jina Jay and supervising location manager Adam Richards (both of Pride & Prejudice); and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, who was Academy Award-nominated for Atonement and went on to shoot the record-breaking The Avengers.
Tim Bevan sees this grouping as being of great benefit to the filmmaking process. He explains, "I think that Joe Wright's very lucky because he's got an experienced team together that has the energy and the interest to explore and create new worlds with him.
"There's no doubt that they work very efficiently together as a team; when filmmakers tend to work with the same group of people there's a lot of shorthand - and a lot of the stuff that you tend to waste time with on other films just doesn't happen. So, hopefully, you can achieve greater things."
Given the preparation period, the brainstorming commences early and often. As with Atonement, Marianelli composed much of the music in pre-production, which in turn allowed the movie's integral and thrilling choreography to be rehearsed and fully imagined by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui prior to filming as well. The producers' call went out to Richards to confer with Wright and Greenwood before, and while, scouting and securing locales ranging from Britain's vast Salisbury Plain to the manicured maze of the U.K.'s Hatfield House to Kizhi, a remote island in Russia.
Anna Karenina was an epic production filmed over the course of 12 weeks on 100 different sets, across 240 scenes, with 83 speaking parts. More so than before, it was imperative that the team's latest production ran as a well-oiled machine. To supplement the meticulous research that Wright personally carries out, he actively encourages his cast and crew to do the same - and to bring their ideas to the table.
Paul Webster says, "Joe Wright immerses himself in visual and literary research, and takes his team along for the ride with everyone spending a lot of time researching and understanding the world that they are entering into to tell the story."
In addition, Joe Wright storyboards his films to visualise them in full, the majority of the time following them almost to the frame once the camera rolls; he prefers to shoot chronologically to build up the characters' emotions, yet he remains flexible and open to the seizing the moment.
With the actors, Joe Wright embarked on an intense cast rehearsal period of several weeks. Tom Stoppard visited one day and spoke to the actors at length, articulating how love suffuses the story. The screenwriter comments, "It was like social intercourse, but we were talking about work. I tend to feel timid in the presence of actors, who I think are brave."
Beyond character development and interacting with their fellow cast members, the actors were educated about Russian cultural life of the time through research presentations and discussions to help inform their understanding of the world their individual characters existed within. These included a seminar with Orlando Figes. "We were lucky to have him," says Kiera Knightley. "His speaking to us and then our reading his great book helped us understand the period and the culture better."
In addition, cast members worked with dialect coach Jill McCullough. Some were required to learn physical skills, such as the riding of horses and how to handle weapons.
With the director and choreographer, the actors developed not only the dance sequences but also their individual character movements. As choreography is a vital element to the film's presentation, some two dozen professional dancers appear throughout Anna Karenina in a variety of different guises. These range from aristocrats at a ball and a soirée, to servants and wait staff, to exotic dancers at a decadent French boîte, to clerks in an office.
Every piece of preparation would contribute to a greater understanding of the story Wright wanted to tell. When the actors finally set foot on the theatre location, they did so with a familiarity not only for their characters but also for the surrounding people and society. Strengthening this feeling for actors and crew alike, they were joined by hundreds of Russians based in the U.K. who had been hand-picked as extras through an open casting call. Wright remembers, "Prior to shooting, we put notices in the Russian-speaking newspapers saying we were making Anna Karenina and were looking for Russian-speaking people to come and be in the film as extras. We thought maybe 200-300 people might turn up.
"Instead, when we arrived on the Saturday morning for the open casting, the line was twice 'round the block. We met over 1,000 people that day, and talked with each one individually. They were just extraordinary and wonderful, and a lot of fun. So the film is in fact filled with Russians, and there are a lot of big set pieces with vast numbers of people, and they gave it an authenticity that helped us in making our movie." Friends and Family
Film editor Melanie Ann Oliver states, "Joe Wright gives everyone the license and the confidence to go further, while through the performances he will keep the movie grounded."
With such a bold visionary approach to Anna Karenina, the director needed his cast to fully embrace the theatre concept, as they would be required to perform their roles with no self-awareness of the artifice surrounding them. Through their efforts, movie audiences would be engrossed in the classic story like never before, transported not just into 19th-century Russia but also within the characters' worlds.
Keira Knightley reveals, "I've always loved history - reading about it, playing it out on-screen - because I feel it takes me out of the present; I fall into a fantasy, which I love doing.
"But this approach was such a very different concept for this piece, not doing a safe adaptation - and I was so excited. Joe Wright called me into his office and had all these drawings up and explained it to me, and I thought, 'Let's go for it!'"
With the lead actress setting the tone, the rest of the cast rose to the challenge as well; producer Paul Webster notes, "They took the text, and Joe Wright's more simple and classical approach, very seriously. There could be no hint of self-consciousness, and no post-modern rationalisation of the story. The theatricality of the vision had to be of a piece with the seriousness of the actor's performances and their belief in their characters' arcs."
Jude Law remarks, "These are people in a world where they are able to play strange social games without feeling hindered by a sense of reality. Joe Wright created an environment where we could step into that world."
Tim Bevan elaborates, "When we are first introduced to Anna Karenina, her family, and the aristocratic society within which she plays a pivotal role, emotions are artfully withheld as they would have been within the high society of that time and place.
"When private feelings arise irrevocably to the surface over the course of the film, hearts and souls are awakened, causing reverberations throughout society."
Joe Wright observes, "Anna is 'the perfect wife,' she's 'Madame Karenin,' and she and her husband hold a certain place in society. Then, a bolt of lightning - in the form of another man - opens her up to another way of living, of loving, and of being."
Tom Stoppard remarks, "Something happens to her which has never happened before, something which I would say she didn't even know about. She has not lived a deprived life, but a life in which something has been missing."
Joe Wright adds, "When you think of a love story, it's Romeo and Juliet, or star-crossed lovers, or a love that overcomes obstacles. Yet that's not what this story is, or does. Tolstoy himself described War and Peace as his epic political novel and Anna Karenina as being a domestic story. Meaning, it's about families and love - which are epic to us all.
"The theatre setting enhances the idea that each individual is on show, performing their given role within society. As they watch those around them, they themselves are at the same time being observed. The principal characters' dilemmas are enhanced and heightened within the artificial environments, and the moviegoing audience will be compelled to use their imaginations."
The theatre setting notwithstanding, Joe Wright was looking for actors who could be "naturalistic rather than stylised, although capable of both - even if their characters were not. I was excited to work with actors in a theatre context, and so in some ways they would be a 'theatre company.'"
Casting director Jina Jay enthuses, "There were so many rich characters - coming from a great novel - for actors to take on." Accordingly, Jina Jay was able to secure estimable talent for even the smaller roles, but for the apex of the story's love triangle no search was ever undertaken; it was on their most recent picture together, Atonement, that Joe Wright and Keira Knightley had first had a conversation about the actress one day portraying Anna.
Joe Wright was confident that Keira Knightley could take on the emotionally complex character and make it her own. He reflects, "We've grown up in our movie work together, really. She works so hard, with such attention to detail. Keira Knightley is an incredibly strong woman, and utterly fearless - qualities that I wanted to play up in this movie."
Paul Webster states, "Joe Wright and Keira Knightley bring out the best in each other. We knew this was going to be the most demanding role of her career, and that she could fully embrace the challenges of playing Anna."
Joe Wright muses, "While in real life she is one of the most likable people you will ever meet, on-screen she is not afraid to court dislike if that's what the character requires. I'm proud of her for what she's done in our movie. She understands the darker places that some of us can go to, and that was definitely necessary for Anna."
Tom Stoppard opines, "Anna behaves badly some of the time, and anyone playing her has got to grab hold of this nettling aspect. Neither the novel nor our film is in the business of moral justification."
Keira Knightley read the novel anew as preparation, and found that her own feelings towards the character had evolved. She says, "I remembered the book as being just incredibly romantic with this extraordinary character. But in re-reading the novel just before we started filming, I found it magnificent but also much, much darker - and realised that there is the huge question of whether Anna Karenina is a heroine or an anti-heroine. I believe that was so even for Tolstoy. My copy got heavily marked up, and Joe and I were constantly questioning ourselves about Anna; we felt we should show the good and the bad, the kindness and the cruelty. I also discussed this with Tom. I tried to understand Anna and capture her all, so Anna Karenina became the hardest project I've done; I knew I had to try to play her without making her 'too nice.'
"Stories like this one are lasting because they are studies on the human condition as a whole, here within one character. Anna is a great and fallible character, one who speaks to what makes us human; in her, you see the flaws, the heroics, and the terrifying emotions. You care about her, and can't help but recognise yourself."
Paul Webster offers, "I think that Tolstoy himself began to fall in love with the character of Anna, which only reinforced the theme of falling in love in spite of yourself."
Tom Stoppard muses, "In quite a number of upper-class aristocratic societies one could think of a fling, an adulterous affair, as being more or less sanctioned. This is not a particularly Russian phenomenon by any means; one could say it's not unknown in Britain.
"The difference between what Anna does and what umpteen other people of her acquaintance might have done or been doing, is that it's not a pleasant dalliance or a diversion. This woman was very young when she married, and has been married a good long time. For her, it is as though she is getting a late chance to live her real life. But doing so affects her standing in society. As it's said, 'She did worse than break the law, she broke the rules.'"
Tim Bevan elaborates further on the complex iconic character who has divided opinion for generations, noting that "the reader and the viewer cannot help but be drawn to her story. You know that she is flawed, yet Anna is not necessarily a woman who one will instantly feel sympathy for. Keira, in terms of her exploration of the character, brings a great deal of mature artistry to portraying her."
Jude Law sought to do the same in playing the cuckolded older husband of Anna, altering his own physical appearance and conveying the quiet dignity and fortitude of a much-respected member of society.
Tim Bevan marvels, "It was brave of Jude Law taking on the part of the older man, as it were. He dove into this character, and I feel that he and Tom Stoppard have imparted a whole dimension to Karenin that isn't necessarily in the book. He's a more rounded character here, not just a cold fish."
The actor explains, "Karenin holds an influential position within government and is completely focused on his work - which he is good at. He has a strict moral code of honour and loyalty, and is spontaneous with neither his behaviour nor his affections, even in the privacy of his own home with his family. The significance of his wife's indiscretion has the power to jeopardise not only their marriage but also the entire edifice of Russian high society.
"I'm sympathetic to all the characters in the story; you need to understand all sides, and that's part of why Tolstoy's novel is so beloved and still engenders discussion. To me, Karenin is ripe to have his heart broken. My feeling is that as far as Karenin sees it, he is offering everything that he should to the marriage. What he doesn't necessarily bring is passion and romance, and that is not necessarily something that's in him; it's probably the way he was brought up, and probably the way he observed his parents behaving. He is carrying his heart as best he knows it."
Tim Stoppard notes, "Karenin is, for many people, the most sympathetic member of the triangle. We're the product of our experience and conditioning, and that's Karenin. It's a slippery slope if you describe him as 'a dull man;' he is probably fascinating to other people in government when they are talking shop. The notion of service, to an empire itself supported by paperwork, is in Karenin's bones."
Jude Law adds, "What's wonderful about the part is that you see slowly and gradually how his vulnerability awakens; he takes his eyes off his work, which is so much a defining part of him, and the human being comes out to fight for his wife and family. By the end, he's travelled quite an interesting journey."
Keira Knightley remarks, "Jude law and I both wanted to get at how there is love between the couple; tragically, she doesn't think there is, and he is unable to vocalise it."
Jude Law admits, "Those are not the easiest of scenes to play opposite another actor; Keira Knightley and I took a lot of time to prepare with Joe Wright, talking about the happier times in their marriage, so that we could push the emotions further on-set."
Joe Wright explains, "I wanted to give Jude Law the space to shine, since I know what a great character actor he can be; we hadn't seen him in a role like this in a while."
Aaron Taylor-Johnson was already on Joe Wright's radar as a potential Count Vronsky, who opens Anna's eyes to passion but at too high a price. When Wright screen-tested the rising star in California with Keira Knightley, he saw "someone who would commit to the part, coupled with a physicality that made Aaron Taylor-Johnson perfect for the role of someone who is seductive but sensitive. Also, Aaron Taylor-Johnson is slightly younger than Keira Knightley, and Count Vronsky is younger than Anna in the novel."
Paul Webster says, "Aaron Taylor-Johnson has a natural aptitude for the camera, and he is very attuned to what it needs to see - just how little, or how much, he needs to do in a scene."
From the first, Aaron Taylor-Johnson was "hugely impressed" with his leading lady, as "I've never seen anyone put in as much preparation as she did for Anna Karenina. Her copy of the book had color-coded stickers, and she would check scenes with the script. I also know that she spoke with people who have been to some of the depths that Anna goes to.
"As an actor, she will challenge you in the best way possible. She will be there for you 100%, including when it's your own close-up."
Keira Knightley praises Aaron Taylor-Johnson as being "an instinctual actor - and one whose instincts are pretty much bang-on every time."
Aaron Taylor-Johnson ascertains his character as being "from a privileged background, and he is an officer on his way up. But when he encounters Anna, his world changes dramatically; he's never seen anything like her, and it's extraordinary. He knows he has to have her and he uses his charm to engage her. He chases her even though she's a married woman; there was a societal allowance for mistresses and affairs, but you never left your husband or wife for someone else because that meant being shunned. Yet Vronsky is devoting his all to Anna; he adores her and he can't stop."
Tom Stoppard says, "What comes through in our film very positively is how Vronsky takes the lead in their relationship. He is a romantic figure, a beautiful boy."
Aaron Taylor-Johnson adds, "At first you just see his arrogance, but then you see how much he is willing to give up for her and how his confidence comes from the heart. Joe Wright and I discussed whether he was naïve or not; I kept saying, 'He's honest.' I can relate to a lot about Vronsky, and because of that I felt I could play him."
The parallel story of Levin's love for Kitty is gentler and more innocent than Anna's for Vronsky, yet it too falters under the scrutiny of society. Actor Domhnall Gleeson had auditioned for Joe Wright, but it wasn't until he performed the part of Levin at a table read - at which his empathetic take on the character impressed one and all - that the part suddenly became his. One facet of the material that the actor sought to convey was "the wry sense of humour shooting through it, which I appreciate; this story gets to the depths of what it means to be alive."
As Domhnall Gleeson sees it, "Levin's idea of love is at the same time very pure and blinkered, in that he sees only this one person to love; he's shooting for the absolute ideal, which isn't always compatible with real life. But in the story, he is one of the only people who spends any time in the real world; he is in a very real place with love, one not based on artifice. That is mirrored in the way he chooses to live his life, which is at a distance from St. Petersburg and Moscow society - away from the theatre, literally. He makes his life in the real world out in the countryside, and is in fact very preoccupied with farming. He is outside sophisticated society.
"Even so, he's caught between the aristocracy and the serfs; he's trying to find a home in nature while the woman he loves is in a place which is artificial to him. But they do have a true connection, which means that Levin has to journey to try to win Kitty and bring her back to his real world. He realises that she's an even better woman than he thought."
Kitty is played by up-and-coming Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, in her first English-language role. The role promised an emotional journey for Alicia Vikander to undertake, with her character beginning as an innocent and radiant ingénue before experiencing heartbreak upon Vronsky's rejecting her and then coming to terms with life and love.
The actress' years of real-life training as a ballet dancer proved beneficial. She notes, "Domhnall Gleeson and I worked with [choreographer] Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui to get into contact with the characters through movement. How Kitty walks or runs into a room at the start of the story and how she is in the last scenes, there's a complete difference. She proves herself to be very un-judgemental, considering her status in society, and this better prepares her for what comes later."
Bevan says, "Audiences may not have seen Domhnall Gleeson or Alicia Vikander before, but they are excellent - and, as they are also young people like their characters, there is a freshness to their work."
"They complement each other," agrees Paul Webster. "Alicia Vikander grasped the opportunity of this role with both hands, and Domhnall Gleeson shows what a powerful actor he is."
Invited to reunite with the filmmakers and leading lady with whom he made Pride & Prejudice, BAFTA Award winner Matthew Macfadyen leapt at the chance to portray Oblonksy, Anna's brother. The actor enthuses, "Oblonsky is incorrigible; he's disarmingly direct and brings humour and warmth to the story as he tries to help the people he loves and cares about, particularly in attempting to be a matchmaker for his friend Levin.
"Oblonsky is one of those people who lights up a dinner party when they come in. He has a wandering eye. He likes the pleasures of the flesh, drinking and eating; to me, he was a very attractive character because he doesn't suffer from terrible introspection. I don't see him as 'a bad man,' and I hugely enjoyed playing this part - except for the moustache I had to grow."
"Matthew Macfadyen is a hoot in this role," enthuses Emmy Award-winning actress Kelly Macdonald, who signed on to play Dolly, wife of Oblonsky and sister-in-law to Anna. "He's played Oblonsky in just the right way: charismatic, frustrating, lovable - and selfishly addicted to passion."
The actress felt