(Warner Bros.) Anna Karenina has been filmed several times in the past, but this production is the first Western film to be made entirely in post-Soviet Russia, utilizing the ornate architecture and expansive vistas of one of the world’s most picturesque and little-seen cities as a natural setting for the action of the story.
“We spent six months in St. Petersburg
and the surrounding countryside making Anna Karenina and
it was a truly remarkable experience,” says Bernard Rose.
“We, as Westerners, know so little of what this country actually
looks like; during the Cold War all we saw were photos of drab
grey buildings and bundled-up people in lines. It was impossible
to know that some of the world’s most beautiful palaces and
public spaces can be found in Russia. But once audiences see this
movie, they will certainly know what they’ve been missing.”
Continues Rose, “Imperial Russia was
the richest empire in the history of the world. It had the wealth
of an entire continent flowing into its pockets, because the feudal
system was still alive in the 19th century there -- the aristocracy
actually owned its workers. Like all pre-revolutionary societies,
Imperial Russia was lavish and decadent for the few who could
enjoy its riches. But after World War II, the city of St. Petersburg
(then called Leningrad), which had suffered heavy damage, was
rebuilt, so the palaces and public buildings are still standing
today and most of them are in quite beautiful condition.”
Bruce Davey, Bernard Rose and line producer
Jim Lemley worked in cooperation with the Len Film Studio of St.
Petersburg, which provided facilities and helped obtain access
to certain sites.
Among the locations used in the film are
Catherine the Great’s lavish Winter Palace; the legendary
art museum The Hermitage; the Peter and Paul Fortress, which actually
pre-dates the construction of St. Petersburg by a year; and several
other historic palaces, including the Marinsky, Marly and Wedding
“The scale of this lavishness served
a symbolic purpose for the Russian aristocracy,” says Davey.
“It reduced the significance of an ordinary individual to
almost nothing, which further emphasized the power of these inherited
bloodlines. Room after room of gold-encrusted decor, crystal chandeliers
and tapestries -- only the enormous, majestic proportions of these
rooms saved them from being gaudy. Instead, they’re simply
amazing to look at.”
Bernard Rose acknowledges that filming in
Russia during the early days of its post-Communist economy brought
certain unique aspects into the movie-making process. “In
the first place, everything had to be done with cash,” he
laughs. “Russia is a totally cash-based economy right now,
and American cash is much better than Russian. But in general,
people were very cooperative, even more than we expected them
“One day we were filming in the Cathedral
Square in front of the Kremlin. We had gotten permits to film
there, but in the middle of the day, Boris Yeltsin himself came
out with some of his aides and asked us to leave because the noise
was disturbing him. Well, you could say this was unfair, but on
the other hand, can you imagine if someone wanted to come from
Russia and shoot a movie in the Rose Garden of the White House?
It would be impossible! So I had very few complaints.
“The Russians have a deeply entrenched
film culture and the supporting cast were all local talent. The
dancers in our ballroom scenes were actual Russian ballerinas,
who showed up in ordinary street clothes and were transformed
into princesses in our lavish ballgowns. I don’t think anyone
can look bad in one of those dresses, and they certainly knew
how to move in them.
“Our horse race was also filmed with
Russian riders and their own horses -- they rode at breakneck
speed and actually wanted to stage those falls as a test of their
The legendary Russian weather lived up to
its reputation -- St. Petersburg is just at the edge of the Arctic
Circle -- but since the production filmed from February through
July, the filmmakers also benefitted from the long Arctic summer
days, which often provided up to 20 hours of light.
“The growing season in that part of
the world is astounding,” says Rose. “They get two crops
in a very short summer, because the light makes everything grow
so fast. It was perfect for filming, of course!”
One of the scenes that Rose felt was central
to the story of Levin’s evolution is the grass-cutting scene
that occurs on his farmland. Using scythes, a team of men cuts
a rhythmic swath through a gorgeous field of golden-green grass,
illuminating to Levin the cyclical nature of life and need of
people to help one another to survive.
“I think that scene is a moment of
epiphany,” says Rose. “It is the beginning of the change
in Levin’s life -- the moment when he goes from being lonely
and unhappy to making the decision to seek happiness with Kitty.
And we actually cut all that grass by hand; it’s one of my
In addition to the classic scenery, costuming
and language used in Anna Karenina, the Imperial Russian
culture was evoked still further with a musical score composed
by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev, conducted by Sir Georg
Solti and performed by the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra.
Concludes Bernard Rose, “This is a
timeless story about some of the most universal desires that inspire
human behavior; it seems appropriate that timeless music, also
composed during this romantic and lavish era, should enhance our
Warner Bros. Presents An Icon Production
of A Film by Bernard Rose: Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina,
starring Sophie Marceau, Sean Bean, Alfred Molina, Mia Kirshner
and James Fox. The music director is Sir Georg Solti; the film
editor is Victor Dubois; and the production designer is John Myhre.
The director of photography is Daryn Okada and the executive producer
is Stephen McEveety. The film has a screenplay by Bernard Rose,
based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy. It is produced by Bruce Davey
and directed by Bernard Rose. Distributed by Warner Bros., A Time
Warner Entertainment Company.