Focus Features has just announced a helmer for their Anna Karenina adaptation penned by Tom Stoppard, and while it’s a bit of a no-duh assignment, it’s still a very fine one. Joe Wright will direct the film, adapted from Leo Tolstoy’s classic (read: every high school kid is assigned to read it, and none of them ever do) novel.

Despite my more bookwormish tendencies, my familiarity with Anna Karenina is quite lacking, so we’ll turn to Focus’ plotline for the film, which tells us that “the story unfolds in its original late-19th-century Russia high-society setting and powerfully explores the capacity for love that surges through the human heart, from the passion between adulterers to the bond between a mother and her children. As Anna questions her happiness, change comes to her family, friends, and community.” Also, it’s Russian and it’s Tolstoy, so it’s also not a feel-good work by any stretch.

But the film has a solid cast already attached to it, including some names that Wright has worked with before, including Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina (in her third role in a Wright production), with Jude Law as her husband Alexei Karenin, and Aaron Johnson as Count Vronksy, with other roles filled by Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfayden (Mr. Darcy in Wright’s Pride & Prejudice), Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Emily Watson, Olivia Williams (from Hanna), and Ruth Wilson.

Wright has a long history with Focus, including his films Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and Hanna. Wright also brings with him composer Dario Marinelli, costume designer Jacqueline Durran, and production designer Sarah Greenwood. Though this new adaptation has been touted as a script by Stoppard, it now looks to be a thoroughly Wright production.

Of course, the Anna Karenina story has been adapted time and time again, not just in film, but also in radio, television, ballet, musical theatre, and opera incarnations. It’s been done. Yet, Wright has proven quite adept at directing fresh takes on literature, particularly when it comes to his Pride & Prejudice(an adaption I adore whole-heartedly). His working relationship with Knightley is also a remarkable one, as her work in both Pride and Atonement is some of her finest. Though I was not as big a fan of Hanna as I, admittedly, expected to be, I’m glad to see Wright returning to the sort of work I think is his best.

Do we need another Anna Karenina? Probably not. Will it provide educators with a significantly slicker take on the material to show their yawning students as a treat after slogging through the source material? Definitely.

Filming on the project will kick off this month in the U.K. and Russia. The film is set to open in the last half of 2012.


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