Theatrical release poster
November 9, 2012
Anna Karenina is a 2012 British drama film directed by Joe Wright and adapted by Tom Stoppard from Leo Tolstoy's 1877 novel of the same name. The film depicts the tragedy of married aristocrat and socialite Anna Karenina and her affair with the affluent Count Vronsky. Keira Knightley stars in the lead role as Karenina, marking her third collaboration with Wright, while Jude Law and Aaron Taylor-Johnson appear as Alexei Karenin and Vronsky, respectively. Produced by Working Title Films in association with StudioCanal, the film premiered at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival, and was released on 7 September 2012 in the United Kingdom and Ireland and on 9 November in the United States.
A theater curtain is raised and a title card showcases Imperial Russia 1874. Another title card is shown and announces the house of Prince Stepan "Stiva" Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen). We see Oblonsky getting ready for a shave while his wife Daria "Dolly" (Kelly Macdonald) is tenderly greeting her five children by their attractive governess. Oblonsky and the governess are soon seen fornicating in a closet. Dolly finds a note from the governess in her husband's office. She tearfully confronts Oblonsky and banishes him from seeing her or their children.
While this happens, Oblonsky's sister Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) read a letter from Stiva to come help save his marriage. She lives in St. Petersburg and is a rich socialite whom many admire. Anna tells her husband Alexi Karenin, (Jude Law) an older but brilliant Russian statesman, that she will depart to Moscow to help solve the problems between her brother and sister-in-law. Karenin allows her to leave but warns her about fixing the problems of others. Anna ignores this and goes to Moscow anyway, leaving her son Serozha who wants her to stay.
In Moscow, Stiva meets his old friend Konstatin Dimitrivich Levin (Domhnall Gleeson). Levin professes his love to Stiva's sister-in-law Kitty (Alicia Vikander) and Stiva encourages him to propose to Kitty. However, Kitty declines his offer. As Levin leaves, he bumps into Count Alexi Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a young, rich, handsome calvary officer who has set his sights on Kitty. Kitty is amused by this, and believes that a marriage to Vronsky will not only make her Countess, but also a rich, admired socialite like Anna Karenina.
Anna, while on a train to Moscow, meets Vronsky's mother, Countess Vronskaya (Olivia Williams), known throughout Russia as an adulteress. Levin meets up with his elder brother Nikolai (David Wilmot), who, like Levin, is an aristocrat, but has given up his inheritance to live a poor life. Nikolai lives with a prostitute named Masha whom he has taken as his wife. Nikolai tells Levin that he should marry one of his peasants working for him at his estate. Levin then returns to his country estate in Pokrovskoe.
Anna arrives in Moscow and meets Count Vronsky. They have an immediate and mutual attraction. As they prepare to leave, a railroad worker is caught beneath train tracks and is violently killed. Vronsky, to impress Anna, decides to give money to the deceased man's family.
Anna convinces Dolly to take Stiva back. At a ball that night, Kitty is radiant and dances with many aristocratic men. As Kitty must dance with the officers and gentlemen who have filled her dance card, Vronsky decides to dance with Anna. As they dance, the other dancers at the ball seem to be frozen in time. Their love and passion is noticed by everyone, including an upset Kitty. Anna notices this, and decides to leave the ball, feeling she has upstaged Kitty. Anna boards a train bound back to St. Petersburg, and at a rest stop notices Vronsky. He declares that he must be where she is at every moment. She tells him to go back to Moscow and that their dalliance is wrong. He says he can not and will follow her anyway.
In St. Petersburg, Vronsky visits his friends along with his cousin Princess Betsy Tverskaya (Ruth Wilson) who is friends with Anna and Karenin. Vronsky shows up at all the places Anna and Betsy visit. Anna is clearly amused, but also ashamed because now all of her rich society friends are starting to notice their attraction. A party thrown by Betsy is abuzz about Anna not coming to the party due to Vronsky's presence. Vronsky leaves the party and Anna arrives late. Betsy informs Anna that Vronsky has left, so she need not worry about a scandal. But Vronsky returns and starts to flirt with Anna openly. The party guests gossip behind their backs, then Karenin appears and notices their attraction. He suggests they go home at once, but Anna decides to stay. Vronsky threatens to take a promotion in another city but Anna requests that he stay. Anna arrives home and speaks with her husband about Vronsky. She denies there is any attraction and dupes her husband into thinking he is hearing gossip and believing it when he should be believing her. They go to bed, and the next day Anna and Vronsky meet at a hotel and make love.
Back at Levin's country estate, Stiva visits and the two go out shooting. Levin asks if Kitty and Vronsky are indeed going to be married, and Stiva tells him they are not. Levin, heartbroken over Kitty, decides to give up on love and instead focus on living an authentic life. He plows his fields with his workers and has thoughts of taking one of his workers' daughters as his wife, like his brother had suggested.
Karenin hears word that both his wife and her lover are in the country and decides to surprise her there at his country estate. Anna is playing in the field with her son, when she hears Vronsky approach her. She tells him that she is pregnant and she wishes to be his and only his. While retreating back to her country house she encounters Karenin who suggests he join her for the horse races that evening. All of Russian society is at the races, and Anna sits with the elite, which includes Princess Betsy. At the races, Countress Vronskaya, upon hearing the rumors of her son and Anna, gives Anna a disgusted look and instead gives her attention to the young Princess Sorokina (Cara Delevingne).
The races begin and Karenin notices Anna waving her fan impatiently to see if Vronsky will win. Vronsky gets ahead in the race, and at the last round his horse collapses and falls off the track with Vronsky. Anna then screams out loud, and thus confirms the affair. On their way home Anna confesses to Karenin that she is indeed Vronsky's mistress and wishes to leave him. He does not allow her to, and instead has her confined to their house to keep up appearances. Anna meets Vronsky in her country estate garden and tells him what has happened. Vronsky demands she gets a divorce from her husband but Anna knowing the consequences of a divorce says "We will find a way." All of society is abuzz about Anna. Even Levin hears the news and is somewhat relieved that Vronsky did not marry Kitty.
As Levin is plowing his field one morning he sees a carriage with Kitty looking serene and angelic. Levin returns to Moscow and demands to Stiva that he must marry Kitty. Anna, starting to show her pregnancy, receives Vronsky at her house in St. Petersburg. Anna berates him and curses him for not coming to her sooner. Vronsky, shocked at this new temper in Anna, replies only that he was doing his duties as an Officer. Anna forgives him and he forgives her. Soon Karenin comes back home to find out that Vronsky has been visiting Anna though he was forbidden to be in the house or near his wife.
He searches Anna's desk and finds love letters. He declares that he will divorce her, keep their son, and drive her out into the street. Anna begs for her son to be with her, but Karenin enraged with anger shouts out that he would never have his son be with an adulteress mother. Levin and Kitty are reunited at the Oblonsky's house for dinner. There Karenin arrives to give news that he is divorcing Anna, much to the dismay of Oblonsky and Dolly. Anna begs Karenin to forgive her, but Karenin has made up his mind, even though he still loves Anna. After the dinner, Levin and Kitty confess their love to each other. They are married.
Karenin gets a note that Anna has gone into premature labor and is dying. Karenin tears the card and returns home. As Anna lies dying, Karenin sees that she has confessed her sins before God and that she was in the wrong. Vronsky is there at her side, and she again berates him and tells him that he could never be the man Karenin is. Karenin feeling ashamed at how he has treated Anna, begs for her forgiveness. Anna forgives him.
The next day Vronsky leaves at the request of Karenin. Karenin forms an attachment to Anna's baby who is called "Anya". He cradles her and watches over as if she was his child. Princess Betsy calls on Anna and discusses with her what will happen to Vronsky now that he has left St. Petersburg and has gone back to Moscow. Anna notices that Karenin is in the doorway and invites him in. She tells Betsy to tell Karenin everything she has told her, which Betsy does.
Karenin comes back to see Anna in tears and in rage. Anna tells him that she wished she would have died instead now she has to live with Karenin and still hear about and see Vronsky wherever she goes, and even more so with her bastard daughter from him. Karenin assures her that they will indeed be happy together again, but Anna only wants Vronsky. Karenin still does not agree to a divorce but releases Anna from her confinement. Anna informs Vronsky through a telegraph and the two leave to Italy along with little Anya. Levin and Kitty return to Levin's country estate where all his servants and attendees are enchanted with his new wife.
Levin's maid informs him that Nikolai and his wife Masha are in the country and seek solitude because Nikolai is sick and will probably not live another day or so. Having told Kitty about his brother and the situation with his wife Masha, Levin feels Kitty will be alarmed and outraged. However he is mistaken and Kitty dutifully asks that his brother and wife and join them in their country estate and that she will nurse him. Levin is shocked but he starts to notice that she has indeed grown up and is living for others instead of herself.
Word has gotten to Countess Lydia that Anna and Vronsky have returned to St. Petersburg. Anna writes Countess Lydia to see if she can intervene so that she may see Serozha for his birthday. Anna wakes her son to professes her love for him and that she was wrong to leave him. However, she tells him that he must come to love his Father, for he is good and kind, and is far better than she will ever be.
Karenin sees Anna and motions for her to leave. Anna returns to Vronsky's hotel room. Vronsky arrives late, and Anna starts to believe that he is fooling around. Anna whips up her courage to attend the Opera, proclaiming that she is not ashamed for what she has done, and neither should Vronsky. Anna attends the Opera and the attendees look at her with disgust and amusement. She starts to understand that society is still not accepting of her or Vronsky. One of the other attendees then starts a ruckus and verbally insults Anna.
All of the Opera house sees the commotion including Vronsky. Anna is humiliated, but retains her poise, but cries back at the hotel. Vronsky rushes to her, and she yells at him and asks him why he did not stop her from going. Vronsky tries to settle the situation by giving her laudanum with water. The next day Anna has lunch at a restaurant. The society women there ignore her, and some leave the tables that surround Anna. Dolly grabs a seat next to her and tells Anna that Kitty is pregnant and is in Moscow to have the baby. Dolly explains that Stiva is the same, but that she has come to love him for who he is, and that she misses Anna. As Anna arrives at the Hotel, Vronsky is reading a letter, but then hides it. Anna informs Vronsky that she doesn't want to think about a divorce or anything only that she loves him and that wherever he goes she shall go with him. Vronsky informs her that he must meet with his mother one last time to settle some accounts, but when Anna sees that Princess Sorokina has come by the hotel to pick him up to send him to his mother's, Anna starts to lose her grip on reality. She drinks more laudanum, and asks her maid to dress her. Anna goes by train to see if Vronsky is truly with his mother.
As she stops from station to station she thinks of her son, her daughter, Karenin, and has a hallucination of Vronsky and Princess Sorokina making love, and laughing about her. At the last station, Anna jumps on the tracks into an oncoming train and yelling out "GOD FORGIVE ME."
Levin piles hay, and plows his fields. Levin still shocked and amazed at Kitty's kind heart and willingness to have helped his brother, realizes that love while immature in the beginning can grow into something more beautiful and more earnest. He also starts to believe that fate is indeed the working of God, and how God truly has blessed him with Kitty and now with a son.
He returns home in the rain to find Kitty giving their newborn son a bath. He kisses her and tells her that he just realized something. Kitty asks him what is, and Levin cradling his baby boy in his arms looks at her, with tears in his eyes and says that someday he will tell her. Oblonsky and his family eat with Levin and Kitty, and Oblonsky looking weary and sad, goes outside lights a cigarette and seems to be crying. It can be implied that he is mourning his sister, or that he is indeed happy and will give up his old life as an adulterer.
Karenin is seen to be happily retired from public duties and is enjoying a book in the meadow where Anna had been playing with Serozha and where she first revealed to Vronsky that she was pregnant. We see Serozha and now a 4 year old little Anya playing among the daisies growing in the field. In a wide shot, it is revealed that the field is on a theater stage where the film began. Thus the whole film's concept of the Russian aristocracy living their lives as if on a stage.
- Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina
- Jude Law as Alexei Karenin
- Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Count Vronsky
- Kelly Macdonald as Dolly
- Matthew Macfadyen as Oblonsky
- Domhnall Gleeson as Konstantin Levin
- Ruth Wilson as Princess Betsy
- Alicia Vikander as Kitty
- Olivia Williams as Countess Vronskaya
- Michelle Dockery as Princess Myagkaya
- Emily Watson as Countess Lydia
- Holliday Grainger as The Baroness
- Shirley Henderson as Meme Kartasov
- Bill Skarsgård as Captain Machouten
- Cara Delevingne as Princess Sorokina
- Alexandra Roach as Countess Nordston
- Hera Hilmar as Varya Vronskaya