It seems like reality but it jumps and floats in and out of the real worth with ease and grace. It is a marvelous looking film and the costuming is breathtaking. But it isn’t just a good looking film. There are good looking films that are utterly and completely tedious with the sound on. The film is also well written. It takes Tolstoy’s massive novel and makes it digestible without removing the essential parts of the story. The screenplay makes sure we know who the main characters are, what sort of people, what sort of character they have and more. Some might say you cannot always easily discern their motivation but that is true both in the Tolstoy novel and in life itself.
If you have read the book you may get more out of this movie because the film delves much more into the society of the time, from politics to social norms for the different classes. A film can only hint at these things but writer Tom Stoppard makes the “hints” telling and creates a coherent, cohesive story from the larger story in the book.
Another thing this film does is remind you how beautiful Keira Knightley is and that is an AIM here. Part of how the audience and the other characters relate to her is through her beauty. She shows the flaws Tolstoy intended in the character too. Anna is not supposed to be perfect or just a victim of society but also a victim of herself. Perhaps the love affair that is the center of the film seems stilted and you do not get the attraction, or the depth of it. That may also be intentional. Is this some “love greater than all things” or is it just one life thrown away for another, more unconventional, but equally unsatisfying life.