(Warner Bros.) Writer-director Bernard Rose says that he is glad to have encountered Anna Karenina for the first time as an adult. When you mention this novel, everyone nods and says, Oh, yes, Ive read it, but when you ask them to be more specific, they admit they were supposed to read it in school, but few really did, says Rose. When I discovered this marvelous story as an adult I could experience it as something fresh and new; it was riveting.
Rose was directing Immortal Beloved, about the life of Beethoven, when he became interested in Tolstoys work. Tolstoy had written The Kreutzer Sonata, which I used as a reference in Immortal Beloved, recalls Rose. It was my first exposure to Tolstoys writing and its power blew me away. I developed an appetite for more of his writing, and Anna Karenina seemed a natural next choice.
Rose became enthralled by the scope and intensity of the novel, and particularly about what it revealed of Tolstoys own inner self. I immediately thought this would make a wonderful movie because the characters were so psychologically powerful. And because of the parallel stories of Anna and Vronsky versus Levin and Kitty, it seemed as if Tolstoy had, by the end of the book, explored virtually all the possibilities of romantic life.
Levin is, essentially, Tolstoy himself, explains the director. His life is factually just like Tolstoys -- hes a wealthy rural landowner, disenchanted with society but full of intellectual passions. I actually used part of Tolstoys writing from A Confession, which is autobiographical, as the opening for this movie, because it merges the novelist and his characters temperaments and outlooks so perfectly.
On the other hand, Anna is also a personification of Tolstoy -- she represents his sensual, physical side, the side he feared and wrestled with all his life. Tolstoy not only married and had 13 children, but he also had many children out of wedlock; he constantly struggled to merge his desires with his ideals.
Once Rose became interested in filming Anna Karenina, he began watching versions of the story that had already been filmed. Of course, I saw the Garbo version, which has many wonderful moments, but the story had a central flaw for me, he says. Neither it nor any other filmed version gave much consideration to Levin and Kittys part of the story; there was no parallelism, and much of the meaning of the whole book was lost.
As Rose considered this, he became committed to writing the script for his movie himself. I went to see Bruce Davey and Mel Gibson at Icon Productions, he recounts. We had worked together very comfortably on Immortal Beloved, and when I told them about my plans for writing and directing a film of Anna Karenina, they were immediately interested. So I went home and began writing.
Says Bruce Davey, Bernard had just done a very fine job for us with Immortal Beloved and he was excited about making Anna Karenina his next film. It was clear that the time was right for a story like this one -- just look at the recent screen success of Jane Austens novels.
Anna Karenina is a very powerful story set at a dramatic period in Russias history. Despite all of its formality, this period is probably the time that Americans and Europeans feel most comfortable with -- a time when Russia was at its most cosmopolitan for the privileged few who could live as aristocrats. And the story itself is a great classic, one that can be created again and again on the screen.
Icon Productions gave Rose the go-ahead and he began finalizing his screenplay as he and Davey considered casting the roles.
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