Leo Tolstoy's masterpiece "Anna Karenina" has been adapted for the silver screen more than a dozen times, but British filmmaker Joe Wright's latest movie version arguably tops them all.
Starring Keira Knightley and Jude Law, the 130-minute film premiered internationally this week at the Toronto International Film Festival, which runs through September 16.
Wright's "Anna Karenina" remains faithful to the novel about a Russian aristocrat negotiating an unhappy marriage and an unsustainable love affair with a dashing cavalry officer, but injects lighthearted moments that provoked audience laughter.
Knightley, who follows some greats in the title role, including Greta Garbo, Vivien Leigh and Sophie Marceau, said the self-destructive Anna is "such a strange character."
"I don't like her all the time. I don't think the point is to like her all the time," the English actress told PostMedia News.
Anna "plays the perfect wife and perfect mother, and occasionally the perfect lover, but constantly there's this spirit, this thing that she might call a demon that she can't repress," Knightley commented.
"I think shame is a deeply difficult thing to live with, and I think she breaks her own moral code. What happens to your own perception of yourself when you break your own moral code? You always make yourself into the heroine, but equally you have self-hatred."
"She is the heroine and the anti-heroine. She is the perfect narcissist. She hates herself and she loves herself."
Knightley, acclaimed for her performance in "The Duchess" (2008), recalled reading "Anna Karenina" at 18, saying she remembered it as a "beautiful sweeping romance."
But when she picked the novel up again last year, she thought to herself: "Jesus Christ, this is not at all what I remember."
"Romance is such a small part," Knightley said. "The companionship, the friendship, the sex. But there's also the madness, the loneliness, the jealousy, the neurosis. And it's very rarely looked at in its entirety. And I think this book does that."
"It's a punch to the stomach, this book. This thing. That's what this film does. It's looking at love in quite a harsh light."