Earlier this week we featured Sergei Bondarchuk’s four-part film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. You can watch that most ambitious of all filmed versions of War and Peace free online on the Youtube channel of Mosfilm, the Soviet Union’s national studio. Though the U.S.S.R. may have gone, Mosfilm hasn’t. Under the direction of filmmaker Karen Shakhnazarov, the studio has soldiered on as a quasi-private production company and put out a variety of films, many of them rooted in Russian history and literature. Five years ago, Shakhnazarov himself directed an eight-part adaptation of another beloved Tolstoy novel, Anna Karenina.
War and Peace (watch here) has been made into four different films. But that’s nothing beside the at least seventeen Anna Karenina movies in existence, not counting Shakhnazarov’s. It was first released in a relatively short cut, its runtime truncated to a bit over two and a half hours, as Anna Karenina: Vronsky’s Story.
That version’s narrative focused, as you may have guessed, on the life of Anna’s irresistible aristocratic lover. Later, Russia-1 television broadcast Shakhnazarov’s work in full as an eight-episode series simply titled Anna Karenina, which you can now watch free online, in full, at Mosfilm’s Youtube channel. Stream all parts above.
In a sense, this serial format is well suited to Tolstoy’s novel, originally published as it was in installments between 1875 and 1877. But even those who’ve read Anna Karenina‘s thousand pages over and over again will have reasons to be surprised by Shakhnazarov’s version, which takes the story of family, class, infidelity, faith, and feudalism in directions of its own. It also incorporates material from outside Tolstoy’s oeuvre, such as “During the Japanese War” and “Stories About the Japanese War” by Vikenty Veresaev, a doctor, writer, and Tolstoy scholar who participated in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904. Like any “free adaptation,” Shakhnazarov’s version of Anna Karenina, will send its viewers back to the book — and ensure that they never read it quite the same way again.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.