FILM REVIEW: Anna Karenina and A Royal Affair

Posted: December 2, 2012 in Film
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Anna Karenina and A Royal Affair have a few key things in common.  They are both historical films with amazing costume and set design.  But more importantly, they tell stories of forbidden love.  I was highly anticipating Anna Karenina and reluctantly went to see A Royal Affair.  Although, I walked out of the theater after seeing A Royal Affair pleasantly surprised and left Anna Karenina somewhat disappointed.  Let’s take a deeper look at these two films and see what made them tick.

annakarenina-mv-1Anna Karenina was directed by Joe Wright, of the critically acclaimed Atonement, and stars Keira Knightley.  It is based on the novel by the same name, written by Leo Tolstoy.  I have to admit, I never read Anna Karenina.  So I walked into the theater, not really knowing the story.

Within the first five minutes, I found my mind wandering and thought I had just paid $15 to sit through a Disney type musical.  But I gave it a chance, and once Knightley’s character, Anna, shared the screen with Aaron Johnson’s character, Count Vronsky, I perked up.  Their chemistry undeniable, you immediately start rooting for them, even though Anna is already married to Jude Law’s character, Karenin.  Although Anna knows it is wrong and she might be disgraced, not just from her husband but from aristocratic society in St. Petersburg, she carries on with her affair, because her love for Vronsky and his for her is just that deep.  Unfortunately for Anna, it ends rather tragically.

But for me, the story of forbidden love was no match for the wonderfully detailed 19th century costumes, masterful set designs,  and fluid movement of the characters throughout each scene, and from scene to scene as if they were in one two-hour long choreographed dance.  The amazing framing of the shots also caught my eye, whether it was Anna in a field of flowers, carrying a parasol or Anna and Vronsky laying in bed naked, wrapped in white sheets and fitting together like a lock and key.  Director Wright also chose a pastel coloring for the first half of the film, making each scene appeal to the viewer like freshly spun cotton candy.

The cinematography is also exquisite.  The DP, Seamus Mcgarvey, uses the device of freeze-framing the peripheral characters while Anna and Vronsky interact, best used during the ballroom dance scenes.  Mcgarvey also utilizes dolly zooms to move rapidly out of a scene making you literally dizzy.  The biggest accomplishment is that almost every scene in the film is entered through the opening of curtains or doors.

It is for these reasons alone, that I’d recommend Anna Karenina.  It truly is a sight to see.

aroyalaffair-mv-2Where Anna Karenina is more about the fluff than the story, A Royal Affair is all about the story and hits home on themes that are still relevant today.  Set in 18th century Denmark, it centers on a young princess of Wales, Caroline Matilda, who is sent to Denmark to tie the knot with Christian VII of Denmark.  Shortly after the arranged marriage she learns Christian is mentally ill and not well-respected in the Danish court.  But she is stuck in this arranged marriage and resigns herself to a life of misery.  However everything changes, when Christian hires  Johann Friedrich Struensee, a German doctor, to be his royal physician.  Dr. Struensee is a follower of the Enlightenment, and before Queen Caroline even says “Voltaire” the two are sneaking off to carry on a secret affair.

With her new-found alliance, Queen Caroline and Dr. Struensee manipulate Christian VII, to make changes in the cabinet, and they begin to bring the Age of Enlightenment to Denmark by feverishly passing cabinet orders.  They create an orphange for motherless children, mandate inoculations against small pox, abolish torture, abolish censorship of the press, reduce the army, and minimize revenues for nobles.  Unfortunately, Dr. Struensee himself becomes too power hungry for his own good and once word of his affair with Queen Caroline leaks from the aristocracy to the masses, his days are numbered.  Maybe I’ve seen too many episodes of The Tudors, but it becomes quite clear that Queen Caroline and Dr. Struensee’s unethical behavior will come back to haunt them.

What is most fascinating is that although Dr. Struensee may have gotten trapped by his own ego, his heart was in the right place.  Most of his changes to the laws of Denmark were for the common people.  But after passing so many public programs, he becomes shocked that Denmark is out of money.  Which highlights the argument we hear over and over again today; how is the government going to pay for that?

It also blew my mind that over 220 years later, our own country is fighting some of the same battles the followers of the Enlightenment fought.  Separation of church and state was the most obvious correlation between this film and modern-day society.  Although it is 2012, we just witnessed an election cycle where some candidates were trying to go back to the days of where religion dictates policy.  It is both eye-opening and frightening that if Dr. Struensee were alive today he’d still be facing opposition.

A Royal Affair had tremendous attention to detail when it came to costumes, make-up, and sets.  It transports the viewer to Copenhagen in 1776 seamlessly.  But what really stands out are the ideas behind the film and how it reminds us the world is still an imperfect place.

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Comments
  1. Mark Hobin says:

    I thought Anna Karenina was a celebration of the film medium. Director Joe Wright’s decision to film it like a play was a bold move that really paid off. I love it. Great review!

  2. V Brooks says:

    Thanks for reviewing these films, they are on my list of movies to watch.

  3. […] FILM REVIEW: Anna Karenina and A Royal Affair (ameliaadamo.com) […]

  4. […] FILM REVIEW: Anna Karenina and A Royal Affair (ameliaadamo.com) […]

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