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Anna Karenina (1948), Vivien Leigh

As we are celebrating today Vivien Leigh’s 101st birth anniversary, I decided to recommend one of her films, one of the many screen versions of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”. Even if most people appreciated the 1935 Hollywood version with Greta Garbo, I consider that Vivien Leigh was even more beautiful and emotionally more vulnerable in her depiction of the heroine. Vivien already had health problems and her marriage to Laurence Olivier was worse than in the beginning of the 1940s. She suffered because he didn’t agree to cast her as Ophelia in his monumental production of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, and so Vivien accepted Alexander Korda’s offer for “Anna Karenina”. The costumes, designed by Cecil Beaton, were exquisite, and there are plenty of impressive, iconic portraits of Vivien as Anna Karenina that are spread all over the world. But the film itself, which is almost 2 hours and 30 minutes, is very long, and Julien Duvivier’s direction is sometimes very stiff. Furthermore, Vivien had zero chemistry with her co-star Kieron Moore, as Count Vronsky. On the other hand, Ralph Richardson was excellent in the role of Karenin, and he and Vivien had many significant scenes, which lifted the film’s quality. Another remarkable scene, and very daring in the way it was made, is the one where Anna Karenina kills herself by throing herself in front of the train. You will actually see the train passing over Anna (Vivien) and the last image is very impactful emotionally, as we see her dead body lying on the rail (Vivien really excelled in all her scenes at the train station). The closing credits were: “And the light by which she had been reading the book of life, blazed up suddenly, illuminating those pages that had been dark, then flickered, grew dim, and went out forever”. I would say that this English version of the Russian story had the best ending and the best performance, as Vivien had many things in common with Anna, including her emotional turmoil and her family situation (leaving her husband and her child for her lover, Olivier, who later became her second husband). This is a nice tribute to Vivien, to remember her, and I recommend you to watch this film today or in any other occasion you may find it.

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