Anna Karenina is the story of a tragic heroine with an almost metaphysical power to enter the reader’s bloodstream and remain there like a dormant virus. Then we remain haunted by poor Anna’s plight each time our animal nature rears its head threatening to overwhelm our better judgment and royally screw up our pursuit of moderate unhappiness.
But, hey, a little emotional collateral damage is just part of the ineluctable pain-pleasure partnership woven throughout Tolstoy’s domestic epic. It’s also a testament to its enduing resonance and relevance to modern life. There are those who argue that Anna Karenina created a bridge between the realism of traditional nineteenth-century novelists (Dostoyevsky, Dickens, Melville) and Modernist upstarts like Joyce, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner. Tolstoy’s piercing insights into human nature combined with the stream-of-consciousness immediacy of the prose makes it particularly ripe material for director Joe Wright, who just confirmed that he’s moving full steam ahead with his adaptation of Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightley in the title role as the wayward aristocrat’s wife tormented by her ill-fated affair with the rakish Count Vronsky.
Wright, who has established himself as the heir apparent to Anthony Minghella — a British filmmaker with a unique talent for adding a contemporary edge to his otherwise faithful adaptations of classic novels. Wright has even recruited Minghella stock player Jude Law to play against type as Count Aleksei Karenin, Anna Karenina’s cuckolded husband. The rest of the cast is populated with a who’s who of talented British actors including Aaron Johnson as the caddish Count Vronsky and Matthew Macfadyen as Stephen Oblonsky, Anna’s adulterous brother. Saoirse Ronan, who was originally slated to tackle the role of the virtuous Kitty, has since dropped out. Though Emily Watson and Ruth Wilson have since joined the cast, no word yet on which characters they’ll play.
Levin, the narrative’s resident mensch and moral barometer, remains the cast’s most intriguing x-factor. The character, who serves as a thoughtful foil to the frenzied impulsive behavior inflicting misery all around him, is as pivotal and nearly as substantial as Anna Karenina herself. The role will require an actor who emanates integrity without coming off as boring or weak. The most obvious choice would be to cast Colin Firth and be done with it. But at this point he may be a little too old to credibly play in a sandbox with such a young cast — Jude Law’s character is supposed to be twenty years older than the rest of the lead characters. James McAvoy was briefly on the hook to play Levin, and he would have hit the mark, as far as we’re concerned. Andrew Garfield is the right age, but he doesn’t quite have the salt-of-the-earth quality the role requires.
Tom Hardy currently tops our list of eligible candidates. Or perhaps even Daniel Radcliffe might have the chops to shed his Harry Potter cloak and fully embody a new non-Harry character. Who would you most like to see play Levin?