How to sell a Keira Knightley period romance and still distinguish it from every other Keira Knightley period romance? For Focus Features’ Anna Karenina, the answer is proudly touting spectacle while employing markedly modern embellishments. The eighth major screen adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel, and the fifth film from hit-or-miss Brit Joe Wright, this spare-no-expense movie wears its grandiosity on its ruffled sleeve, as the recently released trailer certainly attests.
The poster is at once overstuffed, dazzling, tacky, evocative, arrogant, and perfect. Like a shot of an antique shop raided by the royal court and Chris Van Allsburg, it blends opulent production design with near-absurdist block font, which serves to communicate the clout of the story, its endurance in modern times, a diva sensibility, and even the wintry Russia setting, reflected in the gleam of those imposing, towering letters. Positioning its elements on a glitzy stage to boot, the image promises precisely what the trailer does in all those shots of swirling sparks and beating fans: a slick and swoony costume drama of almost goofy proportions.
For Wright, it implies a merger of the work he’s put forth thus far, which has straddled the line between literary pageantry and modern stylization. In one hand, there’s Pride & Prejudice and Atonement (in many ways the former’s unofficial sequel), and in the other, there’s The Soloist and Hanna, two contemporary fairy tales united by their flourishes. The Anna Karenina poster’s stark burst of sans-serif newness sets up the film, superficially, as an authorly intersection, a reading reinforced by all the Baz-Luhrmann theatricality, which, from the spotlights to the tagline, actively channel a certain progressive jukebox musical about a French whore and her storytelling sweetheart.
Will Wright’s latest be as filled with color and verve as Moulin Rouge? In all likelihood, no. But its leading one-sheet succeeds in stirring up that kind of sumptuous excess, boasting at its center the sort of longing gaze that brings calm, purpose, and passion to its whirring mess of activity. Additionally, with its monolithic initials, it cements Keira Knightley’s Anna as a woman of whopping significance, her famous name worthy of a logo oft-reserved for fashion designers. She will be loved, she will be known, and her story will be momentous, no matter the tragic repercussions. It’s that sweeping, vainglorious melodrama that’s being dangled like a glittery carrot, and announced in a buzz of pomp and circumstance.