Wright has chosen to eschew naturalism (there have been plenty of straight Anna K versions, after all) and set Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1877 novel primarily in a crumbling old theater. The idea, I gather, is to bring out the decadent side of nineteenth-century imperial Russian culture and to illustrate a line from a book by historian Orlando Figes describing people in St. Petersburg high society as “living their lives as if on a stage.” So a curtain goes up and stylized groups of actors bustle about said stage or in the catwalks high above. They archly telegraph their snobbery or righteous disapproval. They freeze in place while a spotlight falls on Anna (Keira Knightley), the upright government official’s wife who swoons unto death for the radiantly handsome officer, Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Sometimes the actors attempt to establish a measure of psychological reality while the camera and scenery move operatically around them—a difficult task.
[…] Framing Anna Karenina this way is fatally distancing—it’s Brechtian Tolstoy.
Plus Keira Knightley!