“Two people fall madly in love and think no one notices, because they see only each other. But the heat of their heedless erotic glow is bound to attract attention; it singes onlookers, upends the natural order of propriety, sets tongues to wagging—especially if the young man is a dashing Russian soldier, and the lady in question is married to a revered government official and the mother of a child she adores. So nakedly operatic is the passion of Count Vronsky and Anna Karenina, they may as well be doing it on stage. In the intelligently ecstatic new adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, written by Tom Stoppard and directed by Joe Wright, all the world’s a stage—And when Anna (Keira Knightley) and Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) meet, the theatrical intensity of their first moments in each other’s arms makes those around them not fellow performers but mute spectators, awed and aghast. For eight years, Anna has pursued marriage with Judge Alexei Karenin (righteous, balding Jude Law), for whom she feels respect; her love is poured into their beautiful son. A more worldly woman, the countess Vronskaya (Olivia Williams), counsels Anna to follow her erotic intuitions, saying, “I’d rather end up wishing I hadn’t than wishing I had, wouldn’t you?” Knightley embodies Anna as a girlish woman who has never felt erotic love; once smitten, she is raised to heavenly ecstasy before tumbling into the abyss of shame. It’s a nervy performance, acutely attuned to the volcanic changes a naive creature must enjoy and endure on her first leap into mad passion. She helps make Anna Karenina an operatic romance worth singing about”—Richard Corliss, Time. R. 130 Min.
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