Keira Knightley and director Joe Wright are to high-art literary adaptations what Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese are to modern gangster pictures -- a filmmaker and his actor-avatar working within a genre they've revived and redefined. Now the former duo, whose previous collaborations include "Pride and Prejudice" and "Atonement," has announced plans to continue their canon-raiding spree with a big-screen version of Anna Karenina, to be produced, like both of their previous films, by Working Title's Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner.
There's been no shortage of adaptations of Leo Tolstoy's tragic masterwork, about a restless high-society wife who makes a ruin of her life after straying from her kind-but-boring husband with an exciting-but-unreliable charmer. With its astute and unforgiving social commentary that remains enduringly relevant and its constellation of bright-burning-but-doomed shooting stars -- Anna Karenina has all the elements of epic, emotionally explosive filmmaking. And yet, even though the novel has inspired no less than twenty-five film and television incarnations, only Greta Garbo's Kareninas (she played the character twice, once in the 1927 silent adaptation of the tome, clumsily titled "Love," and then in the definitive 1937 version) withstand the test of time and live up to the promise of the source material.
In fact, Garbo and Tolstoy's doomed heroine have so much in common -- they share such an unmistakable air of mystery and an I-was-not-made-for-these-times lust for freedom -- Knightley will have to work hard to make Karenina her own. But, judging by Wright and Knightley's refreshingly original and contemporary take on such over-worked terrain as "Pride and Prejudice," perhaps even Garbo might approve of her successors.
Keira Knightley photo (c) Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images