It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary are two of the most notorious fallen women in literature. Karenina is prepared to lose all the advantages of high society in favor of the man she loves. Bovary abandons the man who loves her in an attempt to climb socially. As portrayed by Leo Tolstoy and Gustave Flaubert, both women are devastated by the prices they pay.
These are two of the great roles for many actresses and irresistible challenges for many filmmakers. There have been more than a dozen film versions of Karenina, most famously by Greta Garbo (1927 and 1935) and Vivien Leigh; almost as many of Bovary, notably by Isabelle Huppert, Jennifer Jones and Pola Negri (Mia Wasikowska will play her next year).
I mention these details to ask myself: What makes the two roles so enticing that every good actress must sooner or later read the novels and start to daydream? Both are mothers who essentially choose to abandon their single children. Both are the center of attention and gossip within their own circles. Both use opera houses as a stage for their affairs. Both pay dearly for their adulteries. The big difference is that Karenina is driven by sincere passion, and Bovary by selfishness and greed. Karenina inspires pity, Bovary gets what she deserves.
In Joe Wright's daringly stylized new version of "Anna Karenina," he returns for the third time to use Keira Knightley as his heroine. She is almost distractingly beautiful here and elegantly gowned to an improbable degree. One practical reason for that: As much as half of Wright's film is staged within an actual theater and uses not only the stage but the boxes and even the main floor — with seats removed — to present the action. We see the actors in the wings, the stage machinery, the trickery with backdrops, horses galloping across in a steeplechase.