Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina,” with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard, opens in limited release this week, with Kiera Knightley in the title role as Tolstoy’s tragic heroine who loves not wisely but too well. The novel has one of the most often-quoted opening lines in literature: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Not every film adaptation of Anna Karenina is alike, and the new version should inspire audiences to take another look at the earlier films.
The best-known Anna is Greta Garbo, but Anna has also been portrayed by Vivian Leigh, Jaqueline Bisset (with a dashing Christopher Reeve as Vronsky), and Sophie Marceau (filmed on location in Russia). There’s also a BBC miniseries starring Victoria Allum. You can also see the story as a ballet or musical or opera. There is a silent film version, thought to be lost, and a Russian movie that is hard to find, and an Egyptian version called “River of Love.” I wish I could hear the radio version with Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck and see the 1961 television movie with Sean Connery and Claire Bloom.