What are the differences between the novel and the 1997 film of Anna Karenina?

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There are several key differences between Leo Tolstoy's epic novel Anna Karenina and the 1997 film adaptation of the same name by director Bernard Rose.

Most prominently, the characters in the novel are portrayed in a much more sympathetic fashion. Anna, who is in a dry marriage, goes to visit her brother Stiva. While there, she is courted by a slick Casanova-type named Count Vronsky. Their love affair is primarily characterized by its conflict with societal mores and rules. Anna is portrayed as imperfect but empathetic, vulnerable yet defiant. She is a complex figure who slowly becomes paranoid and possessive about Vronsky.

However, in the film, the characters are conceived as much more reckless, imprudent and irrational. Their relationship lacks chemistry. It comes off more melodramatic and sensational, and this is especially later on. It focuses on Anna's foray into drug-induced hysteria and narcissism. She becomes morose and cranky, making for a roundly unsympathetic portrayal of the character.

Tolstoy's novel also boasts a significant B-story following the wealthy landowner Konstantin Levin. He wishes to marry a distant relative of Anna's. While the movie does feature this character, mainly as a counterbalance to the directionality of Anna's story, it's not nearly as prominent as the novel.

Moreover, the film fails to delve into many of the details of the novel, partly due to time and budget constraints and partly due to problems with creative execution and writing. Some issues with the film's internal logic come from a flawed timeline. The film notes scenes occurring in the 1880's even though Tolstoy's novel was completed in 1877.

The scope of the book's 800 pages is able to take the reader to far-reaching parts of Europe: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Peterhof, Vozdvizhenskoe, parts of Germany, Rome, Naples, Venice. The film adaptation, although the first American version to be filmed in Russia, was fairly contained to Moscow and St. Petersburg. The locations, though, were no less beautiful than one might imagine reading the novel.

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