I had a feast this week, watched Anna Karenina and Dorian Gray on TV.
My initial reaction, when I watch such fabulously made films on TV is – ‘Oh! Why did I miss this in the theatre.’
My only reason for watching Anna Karenina was Kiera Knightley; I had tried unsuccessfully to read the unabridged novel when I was younger, but I just did not have the taste for it. I began watching, prepared for ‘dull grey’, but I simply could not take my eyes off the screen, from the word GO.
The film began unconventionally as if on a stage. I loved the way the painted curtain rose to reveal a room, as if on a stage, and then the whole thing seamlessly dissolved into a regular set or outdoor location. This happens throughout the film. I suspect that the director (Joe Wright, more on him, in a minute) has used this technique to encapsulate huge segments of the story, bridge time and travel and avoid a lot of unnecessary dialogue. Anna’s little son is playing with a toy train when she tells him of her impending trip to Moscow and the little model train morphs into a gorgeous, snow encrusted steam engine and its train. Anna alights at the platform, and the frame is frozen to show a typical platform scene. Anna ascends the stairs, meanders into the large complicated backstage structure ( ropes and pulleys etc) of the theatre of the times, only to emerge upstage and descend, merge with the audience and become part of a regular cinematic scene.
In this unashamed auteur film, Joe Wrights also freezes part of the frame at times; the two principal characters remain on stage, while the rest suddenly become part of the audience. The characters saunter easily from ‘screen’ to ‘stage’. Joe Wright has been criticized for this highly stylized adaptation and his heavy use of stage convention, but it suited the dramatic story, I thought. My favourite scene was when the crops in a field are the audience and they are watching Anna’s children with her husband, after her death. The world is, after all, a silent witness to all that we do. The film brought alive Shakespeare’s famed – ‘All the world’s a stage and all men and women merely players’. It has also made me want to read the book!
Joe Wright! He is Anushka Shankar’s husband. He has also made Pride and Prejudice, also with Kiera Knightley and also another favourite – the book as well as all cinematic versions of it. His other film is the Atonement, also with Miss Knightley. I am going to watch out for this guy.
Now Dorian Gray – directed by Oliver Parker, screenplay adapted by Toby Finlay form Oscar Wilde’s horror-fantasy novel A Picture of Dorian Gray. Selling ones soul to the devil in return for material benefits is the theme – in Dorian’s case, a life of unremitting pleasure. A beautiful oil painting of Dorian’s, done by his friend Basil takes the brunt and is desecrated a little bit, with every depravity of Dorian’s. Ben Barnes’ rendition of the Adonis-like Dorian, who never ages, is nuanced. His physical appearance has to remain exactly the same throughout the film; his lips and eyes do all the work of contrasting the former innocent with the subsequent degenerate.
I also perceived a suggestion of homosexuality. The painter clearly has more than an artistic interest in the graceful Dorian. However, the idea is only suggested, not explored. It is interesting, because Oscar Wilde himself walked the wild side and was convicted for paedophilia.
His literary talent, though, is undeniable and his epigrammatic wit is in complete evidence in this classical film of the nineteenth century.
A treat for lovers of literature!