Karenina and Les Mis: Battle of the Classics

25 Jun

It’s barely past the halfway point of this year, and already there’s some flittering buzz over who might be picked for next year’s Oscars. And if this article is anything to go by, then it’ll be a battle between two extravagant costume dramas as opposed to the quirky charms and nostalgia of The Artist.

It’ll be frocks at dawn when Anna Karenina and Les Miserables face off against each other. In the left corner we have Joe Wright (of Pride and Prejudice and Atonement fame) directing Keira Knightley, Jude Law and Aaron Johnson in a grand adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel. In the right corner we have Tom Hooper (of The King’s Speech fame) directing Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman in an, er, adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel.

I’m starting to wonder if Hollywood has good ideas anymore. To be fair, Wright has directed two movies that isn’t adapted from a novel (Hanna and The Soloist) but Hooper’s last film was equally based on nostalgia and aimed squarely at the type of audience who would lap up Les Mis with relish. Aside from this, Les Mis is almost too well known as a successful musical, while Karenina has already been adapted into film a massive twelve times – that’s twelve times, people, double figures. I’m not sure that plonking Keira Knightley in the role will add anything to the wealth of performances we have out there. Then again, I’m not sure plonking Keira Knightley in any role really adds anything to a movie – she has ‘the Keira Knightley face’ and not a lot else. Oh, but she did a bit of gurning in A Dangerous Method to look ‘tortured’; not sure that’ll be helpful with Anna though.

As for Les Mis, it’s been said that Anne Hathaway has some raw power as factory worker Fantine (in the teaser trailer she sings ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ which won people over). That’s all good and well, and I’m sure the film will look beautiful, will be well-acted and feel like a genuinely solid costume drama, but it’s just that little bit depressing that so much should be put into it that smaller indie movies that could be getting a look-in might be completely blown away by the extravagance on show in both Karenina and Les Mis.

If you look at the winners of the Best Picture Oscar in the last five years, four of them were adapted from other sources or real life: No Country For Old Men took as its source material Cormac McCarthy’s book of the same name, The Hurt Locker was based on the journals of journalist Mark Boal, The King’s Speech revolved around the true story of George VI and The Departed was mostly adapted from successful Hong Kong crime thriller Infernal Affairs (which is actually a better film – I still think Marty won the Oscar because he was robbed in the past).

So, while the competition between Karenina and Les Mis will undoubtedly be huge (both in terms of critical and commercial success), it would still be nice to see just a little bit less hype about adaptations. Particularly ones that have already been done twelve times before – yes, I will keep stressing that point. Personally, if it came down to the pair then I would say Les Mis has a better chance of succeeding: its cast seems more solid and star-studded (with added facial movements!), its story is more familiar to a bigger audience and it has at least one song that everyone seems to know. But there’s always room for a surprise…

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