This is an adaptation of one of my favorite novels. Inevitably, a 110-minute movie cannot do justice to Tolstoy’s 800-page book.
Anna (Vivien Leigh) is married to the much-older Count Alexis Karenin (Ralph Richardson), a pedantic bureaucrat. They have a little son who is the light of Anna’s life. Anna’s brother Stepan has been caught in an affair by his wife Dolly. Anna travels from St. Petersburg to Moscow to make peace. She shares a carriage on the train with the mother of Count Alexis Vronsky, a young soldier who has been courting Dolly’s younger sister, Kitty. An old man falls under the train in Moscow, presaging the doom that is awaiting Anna there.
Anna is successful in reconciling her brother and sister-in-law. She goes to a ball where Kitty is expecting a proposal from Vronsky (Kieron Moore). But Vronsky wants only to dance with Anna and the die is cast. He follows her to St. Petersburg. Kitty, who had the same night rejected a proposal from Count Levin, grows ill from humiliation and heartbreak. The Kitty-Levin story, which makes up about half of the novel and provides a needed counterpoint to the Anna-Vronsky affair, is dropped almost entirely by the movie at this point.
The lovers cannot resist temptation. Karenin is remarkably tolerant, seeking only to avoid scandal. But Anna reveals the depth of her feelings in public when Vronsky is thrown from his horse and Karenin seeks a divorce. In revenge, he also asks for sole custody of the son. Although extramarital affairs are common in St. Petersburg high society, they are strictly recreational. By openly defying the rules, Anna becomes an outcast. Things go downhill from there. Then Anna becomes obsessed with the idea that Vronsky is about to abandon her …
Vivien Leigh convinces as a woman who would give up everything for love. Unfortunately, Kieron Moore makes a singularly weak and uncharismatic Vronsky. Richardson is good as the chilly Karenin and manages to give his predicament a hint of subtle pathos. But, although the staging is also good, the film is lacking in fire or depth.
Clips – Comparing Leigh and Garbo as Anna