The Beautiful Anna Karenina

Published on website: January 15, 2013
Categories: 35mm , The StoryBoard Blog
Keira Knightley stars in Anna Karenina. © Focus Features Photo by Laurie Sparham.

Anna Karenina reunited director Joe Wright with Seamus McGarvey, ASC, BSC. The two had previously collaborated on The Soloist and Atonement, which earned McGarvey his first Oscar® nomination. McGarvey recently received his second Oscar® nod for Anna Karenina. Below he shares some insight into telling this classic Tolstoy story primarily on a theater stage.

“Film was absolutely the right choice for Anna Karenina,” says McGarvey. “Joe was very wedded to celluloid and I was totally behind him on that. I wanted the grain, and the grit of the higher speed stock. It seemed more appropriate for a period film. We were going to be shooting a lot in low light, and I really wanted that darkness to live. I wanted it to be dark in those shadows to throw things into obscurity. Film is beautiful for that because the shadows have a real ‘inkiness’ to them.”


(L-R)Gaffer Chuck Finch and Seamus McGarvey, ASC, BSC on set of Anna Karenina. McGarvey was nominated for an Oscar® for his work on the movie. Photo by Laurie Sparham.


The widescreen aspect ratio also played into the format decision. “We wanted to play with distance between characters,” he describes. “In the 2.40 format you can shoot a close-up of two people at the same time, and I love that about it as well. There’s much about the negative space between people that we wanted to explore, particularly in the dynamic between Karenin, played by Jude Law, and Anna Karenina, played by Keira Knightley, where we used that awkward distance quite a lot.”


Keira Knightley and Jude Law star in Anna Karenina. Photo © Focus Features by Laurie Sparham.


McGarvey chose KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219 for the shoot. “I wanted to show the artificiality of the sets, but at the same time, I wanted to blend the textures and make associations between the theatrical world and the exteriors. I didn’t want one to sit completely apart from the other.”


Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey was nominated for an Oscar® for his work on the movie adaptation of "Anna Karenina." Photo by Laurie Sparham.


Looking back on the shoot, he says, “It was great to work with my old friend Joe Wright, and to work in the studio where the degree of control is so enormous. The great thing about being a cinematographer is that while you do your best to try and make it work, ultimately, it’s a complete mystery. That’s the really exciting thing about making any work of art: there are so many crystalized moments that might or might not come together. It’s almost alchemical, and when it happens, it’s magic -- the true magic of cinema.”


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