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The word first broke last November that Joe Wright was collaborating with legendary playwright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard to adapt Anna Karenina, the Leo Tolstoy novel that has been adapted for the screen no fewer than 10 times, the most famous version starring Greta Garbo. Since last fall, though, Wright has been hard at work on his teen assassin thriller Hanna, starring Saoirse Ronan and coming to theaters on April 8. Now that that one's finished, though, Wright, is ready to set his sights on the future, and talked to About.com about Anna Karenina, which he's hoping to shoot in the fall.
First of all, it looks like Keira Knightley will indeed be starring as Anna, as was rumored last fall; though Wright says he's "not sure yet" who the star will be, he also admits "it's fairly obvious" and "I'm loyal to my actors," and is only holding back because "she hasn't signed on the dotted line." Given that Knightley has starred in two of Wright's previous films, and is pretty much perfect to play the glamorous, romantic heroine, it's not too hard to guess what he's hinting at here.
As for the details about the project and Stoppard's script, which Wright calls "amazing," he says it will focus on both Anna's story-- about her affair and divorce-- and Levin's, about his attempts to woo Anna's relative Kitty. Oh, and the parts about agriculture that you skimmed over when you read the book in high school? Wright's ignoring that part too:
It’s a family drama. War and Peace was his big political drama and Anna Karenina, as he says in the first sentence, is about families. 'Happy families are all happy in the same way. Unhappy families are all unhappy in different ways.' So he wrote it to be read by the new emerging literate Russian population. Obviously, it goes off into analytical theoretical studies of the Russian agricultural system which I won’t involve in the script. But the actual plot of it is fairly simple and very emotional."
What Wright seems to be most interested in tackling is the fact that the Russian aristocracy of the period, where Anna Karenina is set, decided to adopt French mannerisms, going so far as to learn French at the exclusion of Russian. As Wright puts it,
The high society was quite French. They didn’t even speak Russian. A lot of them literally didn’t learn their own language so couldn’t talk to their own serfs, their own peasants, because they didn’t speak the same language. So the whole language issue is actually a really fertile one for that society.
If Wright gets moving on the project in the fall, we could see the movie as early as fall 2012, possibly in time for awards season if the film turns out as prestige-friendly as it seems on paper. After the disappointing The Soloist and Hanna, a fine movie that will definitely not be an Oscar contender, Wright seems ready to return to his period film wheelhouse from Pride & Prejudice and Atonement. With Keira Knightley as his Anna and Tom Stoppard adapting one of literature's classics, it's hard to image that this move won't work out well.