Anna Karenina – preview and trailer

Watch the Anna Karenina trailer and view Seamus McGarvey's favourite images from the film

Anna Karenina trailer

Top five images of Anna Karenina

It is one of the greatest love stories of all time, but ‘Anna Karenina’ has yet to produce a classic film, although the 1935 'Greta Garbo' incarnation came close. Now, Keira Knightley has stepped into the title role as Tolstoy’s doomed heroine in an adaptation that reunites her with director Joe Wright (their third collaboration after ‘Pride & Prejudice’ and ‘Atonement’).

But anyone expecting a dutiful BBC-style film is in for a shock, since this version unfolds in a theatrical fantasia of imperial Russia created in Shepperton studios – flaunting its artifice in a manner that recalls auteur filmmakers of a bygone era.

Bringing his visual stamp of artistry to the film is master cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, fresh from ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ and ‘Avengers Assemble’. ‘We had references like Visconti’s “The Leopard” and the films of Max Ophüls and Powell and Pressburger in mind,’ he explains.

‘These are from an age when they weren’t afraid of theatricality – something that’s a rarity in British cinema, where the realist tradition is so strong.’ McGarvey has selected five images from ‘Anna Karenina’ and explains the thinking, craft and graft behind them.

  • 1

    Scandalising high society

    Anna Karenina sets tongues wagging in nineteenth-century St Petersburg with her public attention to a dashing young cavalry officer Vronsky, but the pair only have eyes for each other as a packed ballroom dancefloor melts away.

    Seamus McGarvey: ‘This is all part of one shot which combines choreography, lighting and camera movement. One minute we had a dancefloor filled with a hundred extras, and in the space of four or five seconds they all had to scarper as the lights went down and the camera twirled around Keira and Aaron.

    You looked through the portal of the camera lens and all was calm and poise, yet outside the frame there was a stampede – it was a bit like something from “The Towering Inferno”. It was incredibly complicated but that’s what Joe asks you for… he should make a cinematic workout video.’

  • 2

    In the beginning...

    The scene of Anna Karenina’s and Vronsky’s fateful first meeting is the bustling railway station where Anna arrives by train from Moscow. The power and danger of the moving trains are used to foreshadow the film’s tragic ending.

    Seamus McGarvey: ‘The real challenge here was that it was November in Didcot, where they keep all these old trains, so there wasn’t much natural light but Joe insisted that we had to be able to see the entire platform.

    What you don’t see here is that above the glass roof there’s an incredibly intricate network of gantries where we built a whole lighting set-up. It was actually done after four in the afternoon, by which time we’d lost any daylight, but you wouldn’t know it because we bathed the place in this cold light. The actors, by the way, aren’t faking it, because it was bloody freezing!’

  • 3

    On thin ice

    Since Anna is married to politician Alexei Karenin, she seeks out ways to meet Vronsky, including this visit to an ice-skating rink.

    Seamus McGarvey: ‘This is one of my favourite scenes because of its wild visual abandon and the sheer surprise of it. For me it was key early on to lure the audience into the world we constructed, and for them not just to marvel at it, but to believe in it.

    It’s a mark of Joe’s amazing vision that he could conjure up an imaginary St Petersburg as a sort of Fabergé egg that’s starting to crumble a bit. Look closely and you can see it’s a bit scuffed, it’s definitely coming to the end of an era, which is something Tolstoy talks about in the book.’

  • 4

    Solitary man

    Jude Law is Anna’s upright husband Karenin, who here confronts the pain of his situation, ripping up a letter from his unfaithful wife.

    Seamus McGarvey: ‘Joe had this great idea that Jude would tear up the letter, and as the pieces of paper went up into the air, they’d turn into snow. It wasn’t possible to get that in one take, so we used a cut which took us out to the wide shot you see here.

    Above the frame there were all these prop guys on gantries tipping down fake snow, and it was a one-shot deal because there just wasn’t the time to clear it all up and do it again. As the snow fell down there was complete silence. We all had goosebumps, it was so moving. What had only existed in the imagination was made real, and I hope that some of that feeling is conveyed to the audience when they see it on screen.

    For me the film was all about taking radical decisions that allowed you to be more expressive in meaning. The French have a lovely word for it – suture – the notion that you somehow stitch the audience into the narrative.’

  • 5

    A flash of inspiration

    Domhnall Gleeson plays Levin, the privileged landowner whose search for meaning makes him a cypher for Tolstoy himself. Here, an early morning reverie is about to bring a revelation.

    Seamus McGarvey: ‘That’s our very first shot last autumn on Salisbury Plains. We were there at 3.30am. Totally horrific. My heart goes out to Nestor Almendros shooting all those dawn scenes on ‘Days of Heaven’.

    With all today’s technology you can know exactly where the sun’s going to be, so we had a platform built and the camera on a telescopic crane waiting for the moment. There was the most extraordinary mist, but we knew it wouldn’t stay when the sun came up, so this shot is a combination of fake fog from tubes just out of frame and the residue of that original morning haze.

    All the studio shooting was so controlled, being outdoors we really embraced the unexpected – just after this an amazing sun flare just exploded on to the lens when we shot Domhnall’s close-up, which Joe felt was a great metaphor for the realisation the character’s going through at that point.’