Anna Karenina (1948)

Drama / Romance


Anna Karenina photo
Whilst visiting her brother Oblonsky in Moscow, Anna Karenina, wife of a career politician, meets and falls in love with a young solider, Vronsky. In St Petersburg, Anna pursues her illicit affair with Vronsky, to the dismay of her husband who is determined to seek a divorce to avoid a scandal...
© 2012

Film Review

Film poster
One of the most ambitious film productions of Leo Tolstoy's celebrated novel Anna Karenina is this version starring the iconic actress Vivien Leigh and directed by the great French film director Julien Duvivier. This was Duvivier's only British film, although he also made several other English language films in Hollywood in the 1940s, including an unsuccessful vehicle for Jean Gabin, The Impostor (1944).

Some impressive set and costume design lend the film a feeling of epic grandeur but what makes it so visually striking is the moody lighting and camerawork, which evoke the previous doom-laden offerings that Duvivier had made in France in the 1930s - La Bandera (1935), Pépé le Moko (1937), La Charrette fantôme (1939). The performances are not quite as inspiring, and this is the film's main weakness. Vivien Leigh's portrayal fails to convey the passion and pathos of her tragic heroine, whilst Kieron Moore's Vronsky is as dull as ditch water. (Interestingly, Laurence Olivier was originally slated for the role of Vronsky, but he was busy doing other things, namely his film production of Hamlet). The only part to be played with any real conviction is Ralph Richardson's Alexei Karenin.

The asthetic and dramatic high point of the film is its utterly heart-rending tragic denouement. For a few brief moments, Duvivier and his cinematographer (the great Henri Alekan) conjure up a sense of overwhelming pathos as Anna awakes from the spell of her impossible love and finds herself alone, crushed and devastated in a bleak, unfeeling universe. This is arguably the darkest and cruellest sequence of any of Julien Duvivier's films - and appropriately so. The director would follow it with one further English language film Black Jack (1950) before resuming his career in France. The film is worth comparing with Clarence Brown's Anna Karenina (1935) which starred Greta Garbo in one of her most memorable roles.
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