Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina has already been adapted for film and TV at least a dozen times, so Joe Wright knew he had to find a fresh approach to the classic 1877 novel. ”I didn’t want to make a standard period drama again,” says the director, whose previous films include 2005’s Pride & Prejudice and 2007’s Atonement. ”I liked the idea of setting it in one location. I was reading Natasha’s Dance by Orlando Figes, and he talks about Russian society in the 19th century living their lives as if upon a stage. I found that fascinating.” For his adaptation (out Nov. 9), Wright took the idea literally. The majority of the action — including horse races, snowstorms, and dazzling ballroom dances — is set in a theater, allowing the film to venture into the fantastical without the hindrance of reality.
Keira Knightley stars as Anna, who’s married to an aristocrat (Jude Law) but engages in a passionate affair with a cavalry officer (Savages’ Aaron Taylor-Johnson). After working with Knightley on P&P and Atonement, Wright says that he can communicate with his star using only an exchange of glances. ”It’s not even shorthand — it’s more like mind reading,” he says with a laugh. ”I’m incredibly proud of what she’s done with this movie. I think it’s her best performance.” Certainly they had fine source material. Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love) wrote the script, condensing Tolstoy’s somewhat sprawling plot down to the most basic elements of its central romance. ”If it was about love, it was in,” says Wright. ”If not, it was out.” Fans of the novel’s long passages about farming regulations will just have to hold out for a sequel.