While the best film versions are the 1967 Russian and 1935 Greta Garbo films, the best overall adaptation seen so far of Tolstoy's masterpiece 'Anna Karenina' goes to this mini-series, the only adaptation personally seen so far that doesn't have any major debits in a mostly solid competition (excepting the Sophie Marceau and Kiera Knightley adaptations).
Visually, this far from disappointing fifth episode and the adaptation in general is a real beauty, with some breath taking scenery and sets, opulent costume design and elegant photography with lots of handsome colour. The period detail is not quite as evocative as it is in the 1967 and 1997 (with Sophie Marceau) films, but it is still remarkably authentic and holds up nicely. The music is appropriate and hauntingly beautiful, wisely keeping itself to the background in crucial scenes to let the dialogue really register.
There is also a very thought-provoking, beautifully structured and literate script, that feels and sounds like Tolstoy's writing coming to life from the pages of the novel, covering all the major events and more and with the full emotional impact and more.
The story of 'Anna Karenina' is very faithfully adapted here, one of the most faithful treatments of any adaptation of the novel in fact. In terms of detail, the major events, the subplots, the themes and the characters are all here, and not in Cliff Notes form, this is the real deal. Even early on, one can see the, compared to the other adaptations, richer characterisation, more of the story (this adaptation has the most well developed Levin by far for example) and all the material to be fully expanded upon (things that a 2-4 hour film couldn't do as effectively).
Likewise with the deliberately steady and very measured pacing to allow one to get fully immersed in the atmosphere and let the many nuances of the story and text come through. It is beautifully directed throughout, and the characters and their situations are always interesting.
Nicola Pagett is outstanding as a particularly passionately vulnerable Anna, which is played with pitch-perfect heartfelt pathos, and Stuart Wilson blows all the Vronskys in the film adaptations out of the water in a portrayal that is much more complex than any of the portrayals in any of the film versions, where half of the cinematic Vronskys make for problematic casting. The chemistry between the two of them is very believable with no sudden transitions and it doesn't feel rushed.
Eric Porter's Karenin, a role played to a consistently high level in all of the adaptations even the lesser ones, is more conflicted than most. Rather than being too sympathetic or being too much of a reptile he is more of somebody caught in situations that expose his weaknesses than his strengths, something Porter portrays magnificently. Robert Swann stands out in support as an ambivalent and multi-layered Levin, in a cast where everybody comes off strongly with few if any weak links.
In conclusion, another episode that personally can't find any fault with. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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