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Excerpted from the introduction
Between the first draft and the finished film, a screenplay normally passes through any number of stages. At the beginning, and for perhaps a couple of further drafts, scripts are white, but later each generation of altered pages is printed out on paper of successively changing colour, so by the time filming is over a typical shooting script is as colourful as a rainbow. The script of Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina was no exception. However, the screenplay as published here is founded on the white pages of the first and second drafts, with some nods to coloured pages, particularly those announcing certain deletions, for page count is not as unforgiving as running time.
This is not to say that I have restored everything the movie had no room for. In Tolstoy, Anna and Vronsky begin their life together by running off to Italy. Against Joe’s better instincts, I duly wrote an Italian sequence that was duly chopped long before we went into production. There was also a duel scene (of which more below) which made it as far as the cutting room. On the other hand, I have retained the original opening. We had decided to begin the film at Levin’s place in the country where the story was to end. The birth of a calf was the main event of the first pages. But all of that became an impossibility, and the reason for that (although other reasons might have prevailed even so) is of particular relevance here, because the screenplay now published takes no account of the greatest change that occurred to the movie between the writing and the filming. If this book were the shooting script, it would begin like this:
Much of the action takes place in a large, derelict nineteenth-century Rus- sian theatre—not in the sense of “onstage” only, but often in different parts of the theatre, e.g., the auditorium, the wings, backstage, the under-stage, the fly-tower, etc.
A bold stroke. When Joe told me about his conception, he added that he didn’t want any changes to the script. The scenes would remain just as they were, and would be performed as in a realistic movie, for their emotional truth. He explained, too, that the “theatre idea” would not apply to the country scenes. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, and in the life of Society generally, including, for example, the steeplechase, the scenes would be placed in different parts of the theatre (thus, the first “town scene,” Oblonsky being shaved, would introduce the concept) but country life and nature would be conventionally naturalistic.
It became clear that to go from Levin (delivering the calf and having his dinner) to a theatre curtain rising on Oblonsky and the barber would be too dislocating. The movie would have to begin by setting out its stall, and so it does. The omitting of the first scene was the only change brought about on stylistic grounds, and it was a low price to pay for the rewards to come. If I had any doubts, they were stilled at that first meeting when Joe showed me his new storyboards of the steeplechase with seventeen horses galloping across the stage and Society watching from the dress circle as Vronsky’s horse tumbled over the footlights.
Rather than attempting a description of the style in operation, I’ve opted for laying out the script in the form in which I wrote it, and there are some losses in doing so. Perhaps my favourite moment onscreen is when Anna, leaving Oblonsky’s house, and Levin, walking away from meeting his brother in town, cross paths on the stage. The back of the stage opens to reveal the snowy landscape Levin is going home to, and the two worlds elide for a moment before they separate. Another layered moment occurs at the end of Levin’s restaurant meal with Oblonsky, when Kitty calls down to Levin from the theatre balcony, where she is in her own home, and Levin looks up to see her there. Audio overlaps are, of course, commonplace in films, but here and in many other places it’s the location itself which overlaps, and Joe’s treatment of reality lifts the spirits in a way impossible to convey with a conventional scene break.