Last night I went to a preview screening of Anna Karenina sponsored by Index on Censorship. Tom Stoppard (who wrote the screenplay) and Paul Webster (one of the producers of the film) talked about the film afterwards.
Index on Censorship is an organization that campaigns for freedom of speech, particularly in countries where artists, writers and journalists are censored or punished for the expression of ideas. Tom Stoppard is an active member of Index on Censorship which is celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year.
Tom Stoppard talked about the process of adaptation, why he chose this project, what he did might be disapproved of in screenwriting schools and what he was most proud of. He said there are no rules about adaptation - sometimes you just try and put the book on the screen, sometimes (as in the case of Parade's End) you end up making quite a lot of it up - not characters, but dialogue and scenes. He didn't analyse whether he should get involved in this project or not - you just know. And he knew he wanted to work with Joe Wright and was keen to adapt Tolstoy. He said he had watched most of the other adaptations of Anna Karenina - that's the bit they would probably advise against in screenwriting school. He believes that Index on Censorship is as important and relevant today as it was forty years ago and that artists and writers who are suffering from oppression, or are imprisoned for speaking out, need our support. I am a member of English PEN, an organisation whose members are writers who campaign on behalf of imprisoned writers - you can find out more here.
Paul Webster talked about the filming - Joe Wright uses 35mm film - and what brought JW to the decision to use the artifice of the theatre as the setting for most of the scenes in the film, particularly the ones in Moscow and St Petersburg (there is a bit of open-air scything in the scenes with Levin.) Tom Stoppard had written a script for a conventional adaptation of the film but after scouting locations, the director and producers realised it would be too expensive to make. Joe Wright hit upon the idea of setting much of the action in a theatre, using very little CGI trickery (except where a horse falls in a race) and making a virtue of the lack of space, as theatre directors have to do. So there is a horse race across the stage of the Drury Lane theatre, there might be a factory in Moscow by the footlights and then the camera sweeps up to a bedroom in St Petersburg in the dress circle. There's even a field of flowers on stage towards the end. As Tom Stoppard says, audio overlap is commonplace in film now, but location overlap is not. When asked what he was most proud of, now that the film is finished, he said it was being involved in such an extraordinary project. That sounds like the kind of thing anyone might say in a Q&A when promoting a new film, but the way it is filmed is extraordinary and interesting. The theatricality, though sometimes credited to Tom Stoppard in newspaper reviews I have seen because he is a renowned playwright, actually belongs to Joe Wright. The film is out on Friday 7th September and it's worth seeing.
Here's the trailer: