Note: Guides from our archive are in a slightly different format and have been edited here to make them more user-friendly.
Russia, the late nineteenth century, and one of the best-known tragedies in literature is about to unfold. We meet Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) as she prepares to rescue her boisterous brother Stiva (Matthew Macfadyen) from a marital crisis, brought on by his infidelity to wife Dolly (Kelly McDonald). Anna bids farewell to her mild-mannered husband Alexei (Jude Law) and beloved young son Serhoza (Oscar McNamara), and embarks upon a fateful train journey to Moscow.
Having talked Stiva and Dolly into a reconciliation, Anna is persuaded to attend a ball with Dolly’s sister Kitty (Alicia Vikander), who is innocently infatuated with the dashing Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). She is expecting a proposal at any minute – but to her dismay, Vronsky suddenly has eyes for nobody but Anna. His gaze is reciprocated. Having been in a passionless marriage since the age of eighteen, Anna is completely swept off her feet, and it isn’t long before the two have plunged headlong into an affair.
- What is your immediate reaction to the film? Did you enjoy it, and why/why not? If you have read Anna Karenina, how did this adaptation compare with the novel?
- Do you think that the director’s decision to set the film in a theatre distracted from the story, or added to it? Why might he have taken this decision, and what messages does the device help convey?
- What did you make of Keira Knightley’s performance as Anna? To what extent should we sympathise with the character, and to what extent should we condemn her for what she does? How does the film encourage us to feel about her?
‘I’m talking about love. You’re talking about your appetite.’ – Levin (Domhnall Gleeson)
- How does the film portray infidelity and its consequences? Do filmmakers have any particular responsibilities towards their audience when portraying adultery? How might you characterise our culture’s attitudes towards adultery today?
‘It’s not the sport, it’s the spectacle.’ – Alexei Karenin
- Is Anna rejected by society because of what she does, or because of the visible way she does it? Do we, as a society and as individuals, place more importance on people’s reputation or their actual character?
- What draws Anna and Vronsky together, and what eventually drives them apart? What do you think are the essential elements of a successful romantic relationship?
- What are the different kinds of love on display in the film, and which do you think is closest to true love (if there’s any such thing)? If true love exists, how can we know what it really looks like?
- Many adaptations of Anna Karenina leave out Levin and Kitty’s subplot, which Ian McEwan (author of Atonement) has called ‘the greatest love story in literature’. Why do you think Wright’s film leaves it in, and what does it add?
- Levin was partly intended as a self-portrait of author Tolstoy. How would you describe him, and how does his journey parallel Anna’s? What is he searching for in life, and what does he eventually find?