A feast of Annas

27th September 2012

I know I am coming late to this, but tonight I am off to the Clapham Picturehouse to see Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina with Keira Knightley (above). Despite the so-so reviews, I am intrigued to see how the film-set-in-a-theatre idea comes off. Tolstoy’s great novel is also probably the novel that would run Middlemarch the closest if I was allowed only a single book on a desert island (assuming I had a complete Shakespeare, of course). Which led me to muse on earlier screen manifestations of this tale of love, loss and redemption – and across the jump I have assembled seven YouTube clips of trailers and extracts, as well as the links that will take you to the two parts of a complete (legal) adaptation from Mosfilm with spectacular visuals made in the Soviet Union in 1967. For more about these and other adaptations, see this Wikipedia list. Enjoy.

1. Love, 1927, MGM, directed by Edmund Goulding and (uncredited) John Gilbert

A scene from the comparatively little-known silent adaptation starring Greta Gardo and John Gilbert – Vronsky speaks with Anna on Easter Night in St Petersburg’s cathedral. The astonishing art direction is by Cedric Gibbons and Alexander Toubuloff; the luminous cinematography is courtesy of William Daniels.

2. Anna Karenina, 1935, MGM, directed by Clarence Brown

Eight years later, Greta Gabo reprised the role, this time with Fredric March as Vronsky and Clarence Brown as director. Daniels and Gibbons both contributed to this production as well, although the gowns this time were by Adrian. This is the trailer from the time.

3. Anna Karenina, 1961, BBC, directed by Rudolph Cartier

This is the trailer for a remarkable small-screen version with Claire Bloom and Sean Connery, about which I blogged here (there are some nice screen-grabs too).

4. Anna Karenina, 1967, directed by Aleksandr Zarkhi, part one

5. Anna Karenina, 1967, directed by Aleksandr Zarkhi, part two

A truly spectacular – and very watchable – adaptation which was supposed to compete in the 1968 Cannes Film Festival – before, that is, the event was cancelled because of les evenements of May that year. Both parts are officially posted on YouTube in full by Mosfilm (there are over two hundred other Russian movies to choose from as well) and you can use the “captions” control to access English subtitles.

6. Anna Karenina, 1977, BBC, directed by Basil Coleman

This is the episode one (of ten) opening of a classic serial from the BBC, with Nicola Pagett and Eric Porter. It’s certainly studio bound, but it is far from negligible,

7. Anna Karenina, 1997,  Icon Entertainment, directed by Bernard Rose

Sean Bean was not everyone’s idea of Vronsky in a comparatively low-budget Hollywood version, but this extract from the ball scene is fun – Sophie Marceau plays Anna.

8. Anna Karenina, 2000, Company Pictures for Channel 4, directed by David Blair

I recall rather liking this comparatively conservative small screen version, which stars Helen McCrory and Kevin McKidd. Here is the opening – but all of it is currently available (presumably illegally) on YouTube. so you have the chance to make up your own mind.

9. … plus the official trailer for Boris Eifman’s full-length ballet to music by (who else?) Tchaikovsky, which was premiered in St Petersburg in 2005.


  1. Helene says:

    In the mid-1980s, one of the US broadcast stations made a TV movie of the novel, starring Jacqueline Bisset in the lead role.

    It wasn’t horrible, but I wasn’t exactly thrilled with it. (Americans never seem to recreate classics as well as the Brits.) Hence, I’m reluctant to spend money on this new film, but I’d be eager to hear your take on it (which might change my mind).

  2. Meg says:

    There are even more versions. The one that you mentioned with Jacqueline Bisset and Christopher Reeve is far better than the one played by Keira Knightley
    And this one was played by Vivien Leigh in 1948 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Karenina_(1948_film)
    To my knowledge, there’s even one more adaptation combining quite freely in the film the novel and the Japanese war https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Karenina:_Vronsky%27s_Story

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