ANNA KARENINA The film versions of Tolstoy’s "Anna Karenina" that I have seen are those with Greta Garbo (1935) and Vivien Leigh (1948). One annoyingly titled "Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina" appeared in 1997, but of it I know nothing. What I have been immersed in in the past weeks is the television version that was shown in 1977 with a running time of 539 minutes and divided into 10 episodes. Acorn Media has just released the complete series--with the adjectives "sumptuous" and "ravishing" spelled out on the jacket, taken from what I assume were longer reviews by American critics.
While the novel gives pretty much equal time to Anna and to Levin, the script gives most of the time to Anna (Nicola Paget), her stolid husband Karenin (Eric Porter), and her lover Vronsky (Stuart Wilson). Poor Eric Porter! After playing the stolid Soames Forsyte for so many episodes of the Galsworthy saga, he now plays a similar role in Tolstoy’s tale. But he is so good in this sort of role that my comments are by no means negative.
As with the star of "Hedda Gabbler" or of "Medea" or of any dramatic work with a tragic female lead, Paget’s challenge was to make her Anna sympathetic and yet somewhat culpable. Somehow I felt that Paget lacked the first qualification just a bit. No doubt the fault is Tolstoy’s. Given the choice between a lover and a son, Anna makes her decision. She knows what her son will lose but she seems more concerned about what she will lose, thereby losing my sympathy. But who am I to judge?
Levin (Robert Swann) is never self-centered, even if he is overly optimistic, in his wanting to improve the lot of his serfs and in his tender love for his wife Kitty (Caroline Langrishe). Even the open minded and outspoken Betsy (Sheila Gish) is fiercely supportive of Anna until it because socially unacceptable for her to be so. Tolstoy is as strongly against the patriarchal rules of his time as he is against those who believe that religious "faith" is compatible with evil actions.
There are good performances in secondary and even smaller roles: Marilyn Le Conte as Anna’s faithful maid Annushka, John Bennett as the painter Mihailov, and Davyd Harries as Anna’s brother Stiva. The cast list I printed out runs to five pages, so I stop here.
Except for the frequent argument scenes between Anna and her two Alexei’s (the first name of both Karenin and Vronsky), things move a bit slowly over the 10 episodes. But the look into the lives of Russian society at that time is reward enough for the patient viewer. And thanks to Acorn for providing subtitles.
HINTERLAND Several seasons ago, another police series emerged with the title "A Mind to Kill," starring Philip Madoc. Each episode was shot twice, once in Welsh for local audiences and again in English for wider distribution. Now we have "Hinterland, Series 1" on four Acorn Media DVDs, which covers the same ground--police investigations--on the same ground (more or less) in Aberystwyth, Wales. There is not much original but the series is interesting because of the lead, Richard Harrington as DCI Tom Mathias.
Like so many, actually too many, sleuths today, Harrington has the required beard and has family problems. Here, he longs for his children, who are now with his ex-wife. Unlike the others, very little time is spent on this bit of background plotting. True to the formats of police shows, he has an attractive assistant in DI Mared Rhys (Mali Harries), a blonde DS Sian Owens (Hannah Daniel), and a bespectacled DC Lloyd Ellis (Alex Harries). And there is the obligatory not very friendly superior, Chief Supt. Bran Prosser (Anierin Hughes).
What I like about this series is the connection of the plots to Welsh folklore in two of the episodes, the bare but stunning Welsh landscapes, and the sympathetic portrayal of the main character. I think I caught him once almost about to smile, and perhaps the tone of the series is a bit too serious. Some might find it dull, others interesting but slow moving. I found it reasonably engrossing but not terrific.
Each of the 4 episodes runs 100 minutes and there are subtitles.
Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays for the Arts & Entertainment section.