This was the second film version of the classic Tolstoy novel that was made and it is a decent go at it. Of course, it is rare that film versions ever reach the heights of the written, but director Julien Duvivier (Black Jack) and his cast do not embarrass themselves. This is a film about failure but the film does not follow that lead. Though by today's standards Anna Karenina is not a very positive work about women. The entire blame for the situation and the punishment is all heaped on the poor abandoned and outcast female. It might also be frustrating to see that no solution to the problem for women is offered. For both these frustrations we have to put it into the context of the time and see it for the beautifully written tragic tale it is. It is interesting and novel to watch a film in which most of the characters are not very likable. Most in this film are self-absorbed and vain. They are written like true humans rather than the often super humans we see up onscreen. The characters are filled with faults and flaws and that is what makes the story so interesting.
It is the 19th century in Russia and the beautiful Anna Karenina (Vivien Leigh – Gone With the Wind, A Streetcar Named Desire – 1951) is in a loveless marriage. She is married to the aristocrat Alexei Karenin (Ralph Richardson – Time Bandits, Watership Down) who is cruel to her and she doesn't love. She meets the young nobleman and soldier, Count Vronsky (Kieron Moore – The League of Gentlemen – 1960), and they fall madly in love. They can't help but show their love and people find out. Due to the social conventions of the time Anna cannot get a divorce because her husband won't grant her one and even worse off he refuses to allow her to see their son. To make matters worse, Vronsky's mother doesn't like the match of her son and Anna so she dissuades the union. Count Vronsky leaves to go off to war and Anna is left abandoned, despondent and disgraced.
-Tolstoy: The Man Behind Anna
-The Tolstoy Legacy