Anna Karenina (1948)

Anna Kareninaanna karenina poster
Directed by Julien Duvivier
Written by Jean Anouilh, Guy Morgan, and Julien Duvivier
London Film Productions
First viewing/Hulu Plus


“I think… if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.” ― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

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.

Annex - Leigh, Vivien (Anna Karenina)_NRFPT_05

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

4 thoughts on “Anna Karenina (1948)

    • Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the Garbo version. I did see a BBC series adaptation of the novel years and years ago that I thought was pretty good. I think the story needs more time than a movie can give it.

  1. Wow, I didn’t even know this version existed – I’d love to see both Leigh as Anna and Ralph Richardson as Karenin, so will have to seek it out. I also need to see the Garbo version!

    I love the novel, and have seen a couple of TV adaptations – a BBC one back in the 70s starring Nicola Pagett, which I remember as being very good, and a more recent one from 2000 starring Helen McCrory, which I didn’t like so much. I’ve also seen a couple of more recent cinema films of it, but agree with you that the story needs more time than a single film allows.

    • I think I saw the Nicola Pagett version on Masterpiece Theater here. If I did, that would be the best one I’ve seen so far. I haven’t seen the Garbo but did see a Russian version directed by Alexander Zharki. That one didn’t knock my socks off either. The Leigh edition is at the least interesting. Everytime I read the book I think I love it more. It may be time for a re-read.

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