This rare version of the Tolstoy romance has been drawn from deep within the vaults of the BBC. Adapted by Donald Bull from Marcelle Maurette's treatment of the story, it isn't a definitive screen version by any means (the BBC would produce a more expansive 10-part miniseries in 1977), but the performances are quite excellent, headed by Claire Bloom's haunted Anna and a pre-"Bond" Sean Connery as Vronsky.
Called away from her husband and son in order to help resolve a rift in her brother's marriage, Anna Karenina (Bloom) meets by chance the dashing Count Vronsky (Connery). Having already resigned herself to a passionless life, counting the days until old age, Anna is completely unprepared for the romance which will soon overtake her. Abandoning cold husband Alexei (Albert Lieven), she runs away with Vronsky, but upon their return to Russia, Anna finds life as a social outcast too much to bear. Shunned by the people who were meant to be friends, paranoid about Vronsky's seemingly waning passion, and desperately missing her son, Anna's final act is somehow the fulfilment of her ultimate destiny...
"Anna Karenina" scholars will be a little disappointed at what's missing in this version (the characters of Dolly and Kitty are turned into quite minor figures, Anna's son Sergei doesn't appear until the last act, and Levin doesn't even feature), but what this severely-condensed version of the story leaves out is more than compensated with the performance of Claire Bloom as Anna. One of the great classical actresses of her generation, Bloom gives us a more delicate Anna, with a beautifully haunted quality. Often she doesn't even have to say anything, the camera has only to focus on her dark, expressive eyes, and the performance is there.
On paper, Sean Connery would seem an odd choice for Vronsky and it's true, the part doesn't entirely suit him, but he works well with Bloom. Jack Watling is Anna's brother Stiva, Daphne Anderson plays Dolly, June Thorburn ("Tom Thumb") is Kitty, and Patricia ("Devil Girl from Mars") Laffan is Princess Betsy.
Design wise the production is a bit clunky. Most BBC productions during this period were studio-bound (and even when going outside still very much "inside"), so the look of the piece operates more like a stage play, albeit an elaborately-designed one. Costumes by Elizabeth Agombar are lush, but the hairstyles of Kitty, Dolly and Princess Betsy seem a bit too Sixties to my eyes.
Picture quality for this DVD is more than acceptable given the extreme rarity of the material. Indeed, it's a miracle to have this production on DVD in the first place, given that most of the BBC materal from this era was erased during several archive purges in the 1970's in a bid to recycle expensive videotape. We are forever grateful that there was at least one survivor from that disaster... Claire Bloom's "Anna Karenina".