Magazine article Screen International

Joe Wright

Magazine article Screen International

Joe Wright

Article excerpt

The director talks about his fresh take on Tolstoy classic Anna Karenina.

Director Joe Wright is no stranger to adapting beloved works of literature, having previously brought both Jane Austen's Pride And Prejudice and Ian McEwan's Atonement to the screen. "I love making films based on classic literature," says Wright. "I find that I learn a huge amount and that's one of the reasons why I make films." When it came to Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy's epic tale of love set in Imperial Russia, Wright was not bound by expectations of what period films should be, taking the inspired decision to set much of the film in a large theatre.

Produced by Working Title Films, Anna Karenina stars Keira Knightley -- working with Wright for the third time -- alongside Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen, Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams and Emily Watson.

Though the story has been adapted for the screen several times Wright, whose credits also include The Soloist and Hanna, says he was not sure anyone had approached it in terms of a multi-stranded narrative or explored the idea that the novel is "a meditation on love in all its many forms". He also wanted to exp-lore the ambivalence of the central character.

"I just think Anna has been held up as a kind of heroine/martyr to patriarchal society," Wright explains. "And actually I find she has quite a role in her story, and that she is very human and she is manipulative and cruel and self-willed and selfish and mistaken, but also she refuses to be a hypocrite < she has her own form of honour and truth." Wright, who approached Working Title's Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner about adapting the novel (Paul Webster also produces), brought on board Tom Stoppard, who had won an original screenplay Oscar for Shakespeare In Love. The writing process started with Wright and Stoppard talking about key ideas.

"I remember when Tom said quite early on that he thought love was a form of madness -- that was a touchstone really," Wright explains. "Then he would write up bullet points in terms of which theme would follow which, and then once he had a general idea of how it would work he went away to the country and sat down and wrote the thing by hand in blue ink over the course of six weeks. Then he delivered that and pretty much 85% of what was in the original draft was what stayed in the final screenplay." Love was a focus when adapting Tolstoy's classic novel. "It was really a case of, if there was a scene about love then it was in, and if it was about anything else then it was out," he says. "Because I think audiences these days are less interested in rural farming practices of the 1870s." Setting the film around a theatre also serves as a metaphor for the lives of the Francophile Russian aristocracy at the heart of the story. "I was very influenced by a book by Orlando Figes called Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History Of Russia," Wright explains.

"In that book, he talks about St Petersburg society being this kind of strange performance in which everyone was trying to live out the aspirational world of Parisian cultureS I found that idea of this kind of collective performance fascinating because it also speaks to me about one of the central interests or themes of the novel, which is personal authenticity and how we try and play the roles we think we should play and how sometimes those roles don't quite suit us." After deciding to set the film in a theatre, Wright says, "The challenge we set ourselves was to not change a word of Stoppard's screenplay. …

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