An Unwise Foray Into Popular Culture 56

I went with Nadira to see Anna Karenina last night. Sadly Tom Stoppard’s stab at boiling down this great and complex novel to a standard length feature film was brilliant but doomed; it just can’t be done. Enormous emotional depth and complexity was reduced at times to soap opera; while the virtues of Tom Stoppard’s script – and there were many – were consistently undercut by the appalling ego of the Director. Joe Wright seemed to think that directorial tricks were more important than the story, yet his grossly mannered trompe d’oeil had no relevance other than to look smart and detract from Tolstoy.

Yes there were occasions, like the horse race, when you were marvelling at the technical cleverness of setting it up in a theatre; but actually it is a pivotal point in the story when you are meant to be thinking of something more important than Joe Wright’s cleverness. It is pretty plain that Mr Wright has never imagined that anything could be more important.

The absence of naturalism made life very difficult for the actors to inhabit real characters, but I found Jude Law a revelation as Karenin, conveying a sense of helpless emotional autism that made him more sympathetic than I had found the character in the book. By contrast Keira Knightley was hopelessly miscast as Anna. She acted with all the command of emotional subtlety of Bob the Builder. Her degree of unhappiness, morphine addiction or suicidal distraction at any one time was signaled to us by how much frizzy hair was standing on end.

Anyway, save your money. The nachos were better value than the film.

I came home in time to watch the final four sets of Andy Murray winning the US Open. I cannot pretend I was not deeply engaged, indeed on occasions jumping up and running round the kitchen in excitement. The tennis was simply superb. The levels of fitness involved in playing a five hour game at that level are unimaginable. Murray and Djokovic are both players of artistry and guile.

Of course I was super delighted at the success not just of a Scot, but a member of my own Clan. I eventually got to bed thinking how much more I had enjoyed my evening with Andy Murray than with Keira Knightley. Now that’s not a sentence you hear every day…

56 thoughts on “An Unwise Foray Into Popular Culture

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  • friendly phil

    I could tell KK was miscast without seeing the film, simply because a flat-chested Anna is unthinkable.

  • CD

    …conveying a sense of helpless emotional autism…

    Like Benedict Cumberbatch in the other current Stoppard adaptation, Parade’s End?

  • OldMark

    Thanks for the warning re Anna Karenina, Craig. I was impressed by Keira Knightley in the spring when I saw her portrayal of Sabrina Spielrein in ‘A Dangerous Method’. Will now think twice before spending good money on her latest effort, which you found so under-whelming, and spoilt by the fussy Director.

  • John Goss

    Great novel. I was looking forward to seeing this with a box of tissues in my hand. Not over keen on Tom Stoppard but Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is a classic. Not so sure I’ll go now.

  • LeonardYoung

    Mainstream cinema is rather like mainstream media: Shallow, full of unnecessary “special-effects”, dumbed-down, and aimed at those without critical faculties or attention spans.

  • Strange Reading

    Slovenian D.P. Makovitski was Tolstoy’s personal doctor and compiled the dialogs of
    Tolstoy with his friends who visited him under the title “Being with tolstoy in 1904-1910”. This book was first published in Moscow in 1979 as “The Notes in Yasnaya
    Poliana” in four volumes. In the page 356 of the third volume Tolstoy’s family discussions
    have been introduced. It is very interesting to read this:
    On March 13, 1909, Leo Nikolayevich tolstoy said in one conversation that “I received a letter from one mother. She writes: “My husband is Muslim, but I am Christian. I have two sons, one is a student, the second one is an officer. Both want to convert to Islam.”
    Upon Tolstoy’s these words, Sofya Andreyevna (Tolstoy’s friend) said: “Perhaphs, her
    sons want to convert to Islam so that they could marry more than one wife.”
    Tolstoy said: “So what… As if we have less people who practise not poligamy? When
    I thought over this letter it became clear to me. Muhammad has always been standing
    higher than Christianity. He does not think man as god and never makes himself equal to
    God. Muslims do not have any other gods but God and Muhammad is His messenger. There is no any secret and doubt in it.”
    Sofya Andreevna (Tolstoy’s friend) asked: “Which one is better: Christianity or
    Tolstoy said: “For me, it is evident that Islam is better and higher.”
    After a short silence, Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy repeated: “If we compare Islam with
    Christianity, Islam stands higher. Islam illuminated me a lot…”. Then Mikail Vasileevich (Tolstoy’s friend) said: “Nekrasovs from Zoporojy have converted to Islam…”
    Lev Nikolaeevich Tolstoy said: “When humanity devolops, the foundations of religion
    Taoism, Budhism, Christianity too improve. The foundations of all these religions are one.
    When time passes, the unity and simplicity appear”.

  • Gary

    I did wonder if it would be as you described. I suppose it would be like War & Peace in that it is near impossible to portray in film. Murray showed great spirit. Surely nobody could deserve a grand slam more than he.

  • craig Post author

    I’m having a much less pleasant sport-watching TV experience at the moment, Scotland-Macedonia. As with the Serbia game, Scotland are set up far too defensively.

  • Alaric

    Sports personality of the year is now a bloody difficult task to judge

    I rate Bradley Wiggins and Andy Murray as joint first

    Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis close behind

    et al

  • Vronsky

    KK was good as the teenage Lara on the TV miniseries of Dr Zhivago but hopeless as the mature woman. Unsurprising that she can’t hack Anna.

  • lysias

    I have only seen a few clips of the Garbo/John Gilbert silent version of Anna Karenina, entitled Love, but those clips look most impressive.

  • Chris2

    Strange Reading. Thanks for the excerpts. I seem to recall that Tolstoy was in the Caucasus as a young officer, fighting Chechens.

  • Anon

    OT But…

    An American has been killed and at least one other wounded after militiamen stormed the US consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi, officials say.

    It is believed the protest was held over a US-produced film that is said to be insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.

    The building was set on fire after armed men raided the compound with grenades.

    Protests have also been held at the US embassy in the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

    In the attack in Benghazi, unidentified armed men stormed the grounds, shooting at buildings and throwing handmade bombs into the compound.

    Security forces returned fire but Libyan officials say they were overwhelmed.

    “One American official was killed and another injured in the hand. The other staff members were evacuated and are safe and sound,” Libya’s deputy interior minister Wanis al-Sharif told AFP.

  • CE


    On sporting matters we are in complete agreement! 🙂

    I too was jumping around my house like a lunatic in the wee hours last night. Andy’s performance was astounding, where he found the strength to come back so strong in the 5th I’ll never know. He’s a Scottish legend, and a true world class sportsman who represents everything good about our nation. I’m so glad he’s got this monkey off his back, I hope he’ll go on to snaffle a few more Slams.

    Unfortunately Scottish Football is at the other end of the scale, never mind Avril Levein’s defensive tactics, our failure to win in two home games, or our 14million pound striker who’s won’t play, the SFA’s corruption and the Scottish media’s ineptitude in it’s handling of the death of Rangers FC has left a deep scar on the Scottish game and supporters. (for anyone interested is recommended reading).

  • Lemon Puffs

    The trouble with Andy McMurray is that he is so overtly anti-English that he is a borderline racist. It’s all very well saying it’s tongue in cheek but it’s not – he hates the English and takes every opportunity (that does not affect his vast income) to show it.

  • Frazer

    @ Lemon Puffs..
    He believes in an independant Scotland, like me…we have nothing against the English, we just wish you would go away and leave us alone..

  • Mary

    Speedoman visits Crazyman

    MI6 chief made secret trip to meet Israeli PM to head off plans to bomb Iran’s nuclear programme
    British fears about imminent strike on Iranian nuclear facilities heightened by Israeli leader’s failure to state country’s intentions
    Sir John Sawers delivered message that Britain is opposed to action now
    Mission, two weeks ago, failed to cool Israeli rhetoric as Israeli PM condemns West for failing to act decisively

    and in Israel Nation too.

  • Lemon Puffs

    “we just wish you would go away and leave us alone..”

    And where, exactly, would you like ‘us’ to go? Nationalism is the gateway to militarism and then totalitarianism. Einstein said “Nationalism is an infantile sickness. It is the measles of the human race”, and that was when measles was a serious illness that killed millions – just like nationalism does today.

  • Vronsky

    I’d endorse CE’s recommendation of the monitor website, also the site that spawned it, RangersTaxCase. This isn’t dull footie stuff – it’s about institutional corruption and media complicity, and another good example of internet journalism vastly outperforming the MSM.

  • Lemon Puffs

    An “independent” Scotland? What a joke. The UK is not even independent, nor indeed is the EU. How on Earth do you think Scotland can be independent? Independent of what? The only thing I see Scottish Nationalists being independent of is critical self-analysis and common sense.

    You wont be able to support millions of people on golf tourists, shortbread and whiskey when the oil has run out, you’ll be just like the other PIIGS.

    What was it Salmon said about an arc of prosperity spreading from Iceland, through Ireland to Scotland? Like I said “what a joke”.

  • Paul Jakma

    The levels of fitness involved in playing a five hour game at that level are unimaginable.

    Google for “Andy Murray snitch”, and see for yourself what Murray’s attitude is to doping in tennis. Then ponder again on these unimaginable levels of fitness.

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