Anna Karenina
Keira Knightley reteams with her Pride & Prejudice director Joe Wright to bring Leo Tolstoy's controversial heroine to the big screen in a bold, brilliant and beautiful adaptation. The story follows a married high society woman's fall from grace when she engages in an affair with an affluent and handsome young Count in late-19th-century Russia.

A bold woman who refused to live by the sexual double standards her society thrust upon her, Anna Karenina became an outcast, but in doing so found a sense of freedom and joy, at least for a little while. It's a common theme of heroines who dare to defy gender norms, and one that often results in powerful costume dramas like those below.

Doctor Zhivago (2002) Before she was Anna Karenina, Keira Knightley starred in another classic Russian love story, the PBS miniseries adaptation of Boris Pasternak's Nobel Prize-winning novel. Here she plays a young beauty called Lara, whose rule-breaking romances with three very different men (a fiery activist, a slippery businessman, and a noble doctor) shape the lives of each as revolution overtakes the nation. Kris Marshall, Sam Neill, and Hans Matheson co-star.

Shakespeare in Love (1998) Co-written byAnna Karenina scribe Tom Stoppard, this seven-time Oscar winner constructs a fun though fictional love story, inspired by the works and history of William Shakespeare. Gwyneth Paltrow stars as Viola De Lesseps, a noble woman who defies gender conventions by dressing as a young man so she might perform on the stage. Like many a Shakespeare play, her ruse gets complicated when she falls in love, in this case with the show's smoldering author (Joseph Fiennes). Tom Wilkinson, Geoffrey Rush and Judi Dench co-star; John Madden directs.

The Piano (1993) Set in 1850s New Zealand, this three-time Academy Award-winning drama centers on the passion that builds into unstoppable love between a mute Scottish woman (Holly Hunter) sold off to be the bride of a affluent landowner (Sam Neill), and a gruff laborer with a tender soul (Harvey Keitel). While the sexual tension that burns between Hunter and Keitel is white hot, writer-director Jane Campion interlaces a message about the absurdity of classism, racism, and sexism that makes this film both a sensual and intellectual treat.

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