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Anna Karenina
updated 11.29.2001

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I have just finished watching the PBS version of Anna Karenina, having rented it from the library, so this comment will be very late. I cannot believe some of the harsh critiques of the Masterpiece Theatre series -- especially the criticism of the actress who plays Anna, Helen McCrory. I thought she was superb, along with Kevin McKidd who plays Vronsky, and also the actor who plays her husband (Stephen Dillane). We all have our own version of beauty and I thought Anna's facial features were not so important. McKidd is, in my opinion, painfully handsome but he has imperfect facial features as well. That's part of the attractiveness. Who says we must have total perfection in beauty for the characters to be believable? I do not believe that was part of Tolstoy's intent. The harsh comments from critical viewers, I have to say, really angered me. This was an outstanding production with outstanding actors and wonderful character development. It touched me deeply and affected me long after I viewed the production. Thank you, PBS.

Susan Reany
Toledo, OH

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Tolstoy's Anna Karenina begins with: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." That's long intrigued me and I wonder whether many other folks have pondered what it could mean, etc.

Joseph Tomczyk
Black Mountain, NC

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
This is a beautiful adaptation of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. I think that the role of Anna was perfectly cast. There is a certain charm about Helen McCrory, who portrayed Anna, that I believe was what Tolstoy had in mind.

Quynh Tonnu
San Jose, CA

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I was rather disappointed in this production. The characterization was all off, and the direction and the acting did not develop the intensity that it should.

The affair of Anna and Vronsky simply was not intense enough to make their sacrifices fully credible. Vronsky seemed too much the hearty jock to suddenly develop the psychoses that allow a fairly arbitrary suicide. In fact, when we first see him, he seems the shallow philanderer, something of a Don Juan, hardly capable of any sort of serious relationship. This depiction of Anna showed her as correspondingly shallow, somehow not sufficiently moved by the consequences her actions brought about.

I was glad to see more made of Levin and his ideas, as the passage in the novel about the farm life in the summer has always been a favorite of mine. Whenever I see a scythe (not too often!) I think of this and vow to reread the book. A little more attention to the political milieu would have been welcome, and also more true to Tolstoy, the consummate political novelist. I did, however, love the development of the Levin-Kitty romance.

Karenin came across a more sympathetic character than he does in some portrayals, but not without the ultimate sangfroid that drives his decisions. The production did hint, as Tolstoy did, that society itself is a character in the play and drives the characters with or without their awareness.

Still, there was much to like about this production. I just felt it should have had another hour or two in which to expand a bit.

Nancy Charlton
Hillsboro, OR

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Great Web site. I only wish I had this available to me when I read this literary work-of-art during college. This Web site helps break down Tolstoy's complex story. Great features.

Leighton Mue
Livermore, CA

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I'm in love with Tolstoy as much as Anna and Alexey were in love. I was so moved by the drama on Masterpiece Theatre, I went to library to check out this classic novel. Thanks, PBS, for such wonderful drama!

Doris Collier
Nashville, TN

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I just read a statement about Masterpiece Theatre's presentation of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina which describes it as "a stunningly modern adaptation" of the book. Perhaps so, but I'm inclined to think it's more of a faithful adaptation of the stunning modernity of Tolstoy's greatest fiction.

But first and last, I'll be expressing gratitude to the author/adapter of the screenplay for something which, judging by the work of so many, is apparently extraordinarily difficult to achieve. While it was necessary for purposes of length, perhaps, to take a scene from a chapter in Book II or Book III, for example, and turn it into a sentence in the mouth of someone in Book I who wasn't even there at the time (Dolly and the children at the country house "prefigured" in this way by Stiva at their bedroom door very early, if I remember correctly), yet Allan Cubitt never did stray from Tolstoy's story to go off and tell another of his own (as is not so uncommon among even the best scriptwriters). Cubitt gained my confidence in this respect very early in the first night (twenty minutes on - I looked at my watch), and I was a totally committed audience, having abandoned all my quasi-scholastic nit-picking cynicism underneath the sofa pillows.

I was grateful that Tolstoy's own dear tale was coming through with such profound clarity. Maybe, since this IS Tolstoy, there is extra motivation to be so faithful. With a minor in literature, my experience indicates that we should expect a writer to be fully aware that anyone who would do an unfaithful thing to Tolstoy would have Hell to pay. (At least, it wouldn't have surprised me.)

But that very joke itself is not one that neither Constantine Levin nor Mr. Tolstoy, his biographer, would have been mean enough to tell, or even capable of playing, in their maturity, on Allan Cubitt - whatever his adaptation. Not even from their graves. Tolstoy might have loved this, even if only secretly, but he surely would have had to embrace it (despite the many missing peasants and gentleman farmers).

This was an extraordinary, and, finally, totally faithful, totally great script; the production was both entertaining and painfully transparent, and I loved every minute of it - truly a masterpiece. Allan Cubitt gets my personal Emmy for writing; even the child actors and the Russian Orthodox priest gave us impeccable performances.

The whole cast was priceless. There was no one to pick apart. What I was most morbidly curious about in advance was how the character of Karenin, Anna's husband, would be played. His greatness, his smallness, his puniness, has grand generosity, his profound wisdom and his pitiful selfishness - this actor captured all of it as if he were folding a handkerchief. He folded a handkerchief all the way through, and I would never have believed it was possible to make it seem so easy.

In fact, I was near the end of Book III of VII last weekend when I first learned that Anna Karenina would be coming on PBS this week, and I trade on no honesty or confidence to say that I will have goose bumps for years because of it, because of Allan Cubitt, Leo Tolstoy, Constantine Levin. I, too, would marry Kitty in a minute, but I would never pretend to understand Anna Karenina - at least in no other way than as Tolstoy's own candlestick 19th-century Russian aristocratic woman who, like perhaps nowhere else but in such "high" society, must somehow or another willfully experience the full range of raging hormones - sometimes creative and just as surely destructive - long before the rest of the world had the slightest notion there were any.

Who is more profoundly modern than Tolstoy? Arthur Miller? William Faulkner? Hormone therapists? Somebody help me out here....

Bruce Altman
Cape May, NJ

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I don't believe I've seen a WORSE production in all my years of viewing Masterpiece Theatre. It is certainly the worst version of Anna Karenina that I have ever seen. What was director David Blair, hoping to achieve with the handheld, shaky camera work? Tolstoy meets MTV's Real World or Fox Channel's Cops? Presuming he hoped the viewer would feel as if s/he were an eavesdropper on the scenes, this was clearly not achieved. The result was visual distraction and shoddy sound direction as well. This is one very disappointed viewer's point of view, in any event.

Kathleen Martin
New Albany, IN

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Stephen Dillane brought a refreshing depth to the character of Karenin. It is easy to tell the tale of the two beautiful lovers, but a much more difficult task to tell the story of the one who is left. Bravo...well done!

Debbie Zaretsky
Rochester, NY

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
My husband and I just finished watching Anna Karenina, and we both thought that it was beautifully done. All the actors did a wonderful job. They should be applauded for their portrayals of Tolstoy's characters. However tragic the story, it left us feeling a need to know more about the actors that were in the drama. The English always do such a remarkable job with their productions. Please let us see more of these beautiful stories. My personal favorite was Kitty, she was so beautiful with her spirit to forgive and love her husband, as did Dolly.

Carol Shibuya
Palos Verdes Estates, CA

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
The sound on this production was atrocious. I had the volume up as high as it could go and I still could not hear half the dialogue.

Holly Reiter
Chicago, IL

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