September 18, 2012

Much ado about Buffy


Keira Knightley plays Anna Karenina in a new film adaptation that blends reality and artifice.

The Toronto International Film Festival wrapped up this weekend, and thanks to NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, I heard about a couple literary film adaptations that really seem worth checking out. Joss Whedon (perhaps best known for creating the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series) premiered his take on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing; and a new adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina made its debut as well.

Whedon fans are sure to recognize the cast of Much Ado About Nothing, many of them having appeared in his previous projects, although Anthony Head, initially slated to play Leonato, was, lamentably, not available at the time of filming.  The movie was shot in only twelve days at Whedon’s Santa Monica home, contributing to what NPR’s Linda Holmes describes as a “warmly homemade” quality. Holmes goes on to posit that films like this could be the future for smaller-scale, artistically driven works. With a much smaller budget than say, The Avengers, the summer blockbuster that Whedon also wrote and directed, Much Ado About Nothing doesn’t have the same mandate from a studio to rake in millions and billions of dollars—and it and similar passion projects could find an audience, even if it’s not Avengers-sized.

At the other end of the spectrum, Anna Karenina is lavish and ornate, as you can see in the trailer, and Keira Knightley (playing the titular character) reportedly said that the ballroom scene alone took a month of rehearsal to nail down (again, I’m getting my information from Pop Culture Happy Hour, which I can’t recommend highly enough). The screenplay for the movie was written by playwright Tom Stoppard, and he and director Joe Wright (who worked with Knightley on Pride and Prejudice and Atonement) let the action transition from a theatre stage to “real” settings, in a highly stylized telling of the story. Bob Mondello says in the podcast that “it is as if [Wright] choreographed every moment,” going on to draw the parallel between the film’s meticulous stage direction and the lives of the characters, members of the Russian aristocracy who metaphorically live on stage, always dressing and acting with a degree of artifice, in a manner that’s “presentational.”

Between these two movies and the new version of Wuthering Heights I wrote about last week, it’s looking to be a good year for literary film adaptations. Anna Karenina will hit theatres November 16, while Much Ado About Nothing does not yet have a release date scheduled, though it is due out in 2012.


Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.