One of the film highlights of the year for me was Anna Karenina, a British adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's great novel of the same name.
It is a powerful story set in late 19th century tsarist Russian high society exploring the uncontrollable passion between adulterers, and the bond between a mother and her child. Tolstoy brilliantly contrasts the doomed love affair between the aristocratic Anna (played by my favourite Keira Knightley ), and the affluent, handsome Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson ), with the simple farming life of Levin, played by Domhnall Gleeson (son of Brendan ).
Directed by Joe Wright and adapted by Tom Stoppard, the film is stunningly, and at times surreally, set in a elaborate St Petersburg theatre. I would have preferred a more sweeping limitless landscape but, if not a total success, the film was an imaginative and creative response to a major work of literature.
Levin eventually secures the love of Kitty (played by Alicia Vikander in the film ) who will gladly share his rural life on his estate.
Here is how Tolstoy describes the final part of their Byzantine marriage ceremony, a mixture of sacramental blessings and the pagan customs of the peasantry.
Kitty leaves her parents’ house and travels with the family icon to the church to meet Levin (who is late, as Tolstoy was at his own wedding, because his man servant had misplaced his shirt ). The parents of the bride and groom are absent from the service, as demanded by custom, for the wedding was perceived as the moment when the bridal couple leave their earthly homes and join together in the family of the Church. Like all Russian brides, Kitty is accompanied by her godparents, whose customary role is to administer this rite of passage by offering the bride and groom the sacred wedding loaf, blessing them with icons and placing on their heads ‘wedding crowns’.
‘Put it right on!’ was the advice heard from all sides when the priest brought forward the crowns and Shcherbatsky, his hand shaking in its three-button glove, held the crown above Kitty’s head. ‘Put it on!’ she whispered, smiling. Levin looked round and was struck by her beatific expression. He could not help feeling infected by her feeling and becoming as glad and happy as she was.
With light hearts they listened to the reading of the Epistle and heard the head deacon thunder out one last verse, awaited with such impatience by the outside public. With light hearts they drank the warm red wine and water from the shallow cup, and their spirits rose still higher when the priest, flinging back his stole, and taking their hands in his, led them round the lectern while a bass voice rang out ‘Rejoice, O Isaiah!’ Shcherbatsky and Tchirkov, who were supporting the crowns and getting entangled in the bride’s train, smiled too, and were inexplicably happy. They either lagged behind or stumbled on the bride and bridegroom every time the priest came to a halt. The spark of joy glowing in Kitty’s heart seemed to have spread to everyone in church. Levin fancied that the priest and deacon wanted to smile as much as he did.
Lifting the crowns from their heads, the priest read the last prayer and congratulated the young couple. Levin glanced at Kitty and thought he had never seen her look like that before, so lovely with the new light of happiness shining in her face. Levin longed to say something to her but did not know whether the ceremony was over yet. The priest came to his aid, saying softly, a smile on his kindly mouth, ‘ Kiss your wife, and you, kiss your husband’ and took the candles from their hands.