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Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina: We don't care enough what happens to her 

My very first review for Standpoint — in the now undoubtedly sought-after first issue — was of a Keira Knightley film, a dreary and now-forgotten biopic about Dylan Thomas called The Edge of Love. I'd never been much of a fan of Knightley, and in that piece I described her acting as self-conscious, and her brand of beauty as "pristine, boyish-limed and brittle", i.e. the sort which appealed mostly to fashion editors. Her face too, while exquisite when in repose, I characterised as exposing the jagged grin of a Halloween pumpkin when required to grin or laugh.

Looking back, that seems harsh, rather bitchy and uncalled-for, although Knightley does bring out a similar reaction in many. Could it be the continued use of a pout that does it? Pouting is after all something which belongs to the vain, being as it is the personal acknowledgement of one's sexual allure. It affects artless unawareness of course, but is perhaps the only facial expression which, in order to have any kind of meaning, requires others to be looking.  Male actors can almost never get away with it if they want to be taken seriously, but it's considered quite acceptable as part of many actresses' artillery. Scarlett Johansson has built a career on an especially plumped-up version of it (she has bedroom lips as opposed to bedroom eyes).

Knightley's version has a more trembly, slightly hurt quality, which she puts to appropriate use as Anna Karenina in the latest screen version of this much-adapted classic. The slightly maniacal grin is still there too which, seen in close-up on a big screen, has the capacity to make you flinch, chiefly because it seems so at odds with the porcelain refinement of her features. If all this sounds as if I am unfairly hung up on this actress's  physical attributes, it is perhaps because I am still trying to get a handle on the extent of her abilities as a leading lady; for that, with its particular set of requirements, is how she has been viewed from the very start of her short career, and it is certainly what is required in anybody taking on Tolstoy's tragic heroine.

Knightley has certainly grown in stature in the four years since The Edge of Love. The ingénue quality is receding, the self-consciousness has lessened and there are signs here and there of a growing range. But it still does not quite add up to the sophistication and adultness needed in this part, and which was displayed by both Greta Garbo and Vivien Leigh in the previous celebrated versions. The director here, Joe Wright, who guided her through Pride and Prejudice and then Atonement, certainly makes her look wonderful, helped by the sumptuous costumes, which she wears with a nonchalance and aplomb rare in most contemporary actresses. And, thanks to the superb photography lavished on her, she just occasionally manages to summon up memories of the goddesses of the golden era. Legendary glamour photographers of the Thirties such as George Hurrell and Clarence Sinclair Bull would certainly have made something of her raw material.

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