Full marks to Joe Wright, director of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Atonement’, for attempting to drag the literary adaptation out of the middlebrow ‘heritage movie’ ghetto, but this bold adaptation of the Tolstoy classic, which eschews real locations and realistic sets in favour of a wilfully artificial theatre setting, just doesn’t work. A good enough Knightley is the titular tragic heroine, a beautiful woman who risks her position in Russian society and marriage to the dull and dutiful Karnenin (Law) when she embarks on an affair with the dashing young soldier Count Vronksy (Taylor-Johnson). The audacious decision to stage most of the action as a theatre performance, while underlining the performance aspect of aristocratic life, distracts from the intense drama, and at times there is so much going on in the frame, the picture feels redolent of Baz Luhrmann at his most tiresomely busy. In condensing Tolstoy’s novel into a two-hour running time Tom Stoppard’s screenplay renders many of the characters as mere types rather than the nuanced characters Tolstoy fashioned, particularly Vronsky whose excessive moustache-twiddling suggests he would probably be happier tying a damsel to a railway line than swaggering around Russian society. Matthew Macfadyen as the cheerfully amoral Oblonsky manages to rise above the melee to make an impression, as does Domnhall (son of Brendan) Gleeson whose turn as Tolstoy-surrogate Levin combines the requisite amount of naivety and soulful idealism. The scenes of Levin conversing with one of his ex-serfs, now a paid labourer on the family estate, feel like rare moments of unfettered emotional truth among the distracting artifice.