Seamus McGarvey Brings a Theatrical Look to Anna Karenina

Seamus McGarvey, BSC is currently in London timing the images for Anna Karenina, a feature film adaptation of the 19th Century Leo Tolstoy novel. The film was directed by Joe Wright, with whom McGarvey worked on Atonement. That film brought McGarvey an Academy Award nomination.

Seamus McGarvey, BSC. (Photo by Alex Bailey)

Anna Karenina has been translated to the screen dozens of times, perhaps most memorably in 1935 by Greta Garbo, director Clarence Brown, and cinematographer William Daniels, ASC. In a 1997 production, Daryn Okada, ASC portrayed a Russia on the brink of change with memorably elegant imagery. This time around, according to McGarvey, the filmmakers took a theatrical approach.

“The novel was originally published in installments, so the story actually lends itself to being broken down episodically,” says McGarvey, who also photographed The Avengers. “We took a theatrical approach to the staging and photography as well, using lighting cues and physical scenery changes as transition devices.”

McGarvey and Wright chose 35 mm anamorphic as the format, and used Kodak film stock. A dichotomy was drawn between the more formal St. Petersburg high society settings, and the more idyllic, pastoral situations depicting peasant life, which Tolstoy idealized in the novel.

The production team shot on stage at Shepperton, but also ventured to a frozen landscape of stark beauty in Karelia, in northwestern Russia, near the Finnish border. “Looking at those scenes now, in the warmth of the postproduction suite, I am reminded of how the brutal conditions brought us together,” says McGarvey. “The light is so incredibly beautiful – it never got higher than ten degrees above the horizon, and the shadows after sunset have an amazing aquamarine tint and the skies have a hint of lilac. The film was able to record all that, so I think we’ve got something quite special.”

Anna Karenina stars Keira Knightley and Jude Law, and is slated for release in the UK in September of 2012, and in early November in the US. Watch for a more thorough recounting of the cinematography of the film in an upcoming issue of British Cinematographer Magazine (

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