Anyone who has ever read a classic novel knows that they can be long and tiring affairs with infinite description and no editor in sight.
This is why classic novels often don't translate very well onto film. They were meant for an era with no flickering screens and few distractions. Modern film-makers are thus presented with a dilemma; either stick slavishly to the narrative and bore the hell out of everyone but the most persistent, either try to modernise the story risking making it look really silly or take a fresh new approach.
Thankfully, Joe Wright chooses the latter. He sticks to the story but styles the film in a very beautiful, exciting and fast-paced way. I disagree that the setting of the film within a theatre distracts us as many, including TotalFilm, have said.
On the contrary, I think that it allows the director to move swiftly from one scene to another without getting bogged down. It also allows the director to use freeze-frame and other techniques effectively without looking silly.
Leo Tolstoy's story is a classic love triangle one and it is safe in veteran playwright Tom Stoppard's hands. The words are full of intensity. So is the acting and most of the scenes, particularly a dancing scene which represents Anna falling for Count Vronsky.
Of note are also the costumes and make-up which are surely a shoe-in for next year's Oscars in their respective categories.
The director overreaches at times but the film is one of great vision and beautiful to look at. I give it four stars for vision and three and a half stars for execution.