10 best actresses who played Anna Karenina (PHOTOS)

Soviet Anna Karenina - Tatiana Samoilova

Soviet Anna Karenina - Tatiana Samoilova

dir. Alexander Zarkhi, 1967/Mosfilm
The romantic novel by Leo Tolstoy is one of the most frequently adapted pieces of literature of all time and among all nations. More than 30 movies have been made based on that story. Below, we highlight some of the best actresses to have played the eponymous character.

1. Greta Garbo

A still from ‘Love’ silent movie

The legendary actress actually played Anna Karenina twice. First, in the silent movie ‘Love’ (1927), where her partner was John Gilbert, with whom Greta had a relationship with in real life – sadly for him, she broke up with Gilbert in quite a dramatic way at the altar!

A still from 'Anna Karenina': Greta Garbo as Karenina and Fredric March as Vronsky

Eight years later, Garbo reprised the role again and the ‘Anna Karenina’ from 1935 went on to become a Hollywood classic. This movie is also considered one of the best in the actress’ filmography.

2. Vivien Leigh

A still from 'Anna Karenina': Vivien Leigh as Karenina and Kieron Moore as Count Vronsky

Nine years after her star role as Scarlett O'Hara, Vivien Leigh played Anna Karenina (1948), a woman as passionate and determined. However, the movie by French director Julien Duvivier wasn’t very successful at the box office.

3. Zully Moreno

A still from 'Amor prohibido' (The Prohibited Love)

The star of Argentinian cinema’s ‘golden age’, beautiful Zuly Moreno starred in ‘Prohibited Love’ (1955).

Jorge Mistral and Zully Moreno in 'Amor prohibido'

Tolstoy’s narrative was moved to the realities of Argentina in the 1950s.

4. Tatiana Samoilova

Tatyana Samoilova is the most famous Soviet Anna Karenina

Soviet ‘Anna Karenina’ (1967) by Alexander Zarkhi is still considered one of the more exemplary adaptations – not least thanks to the brilliant acting by Tatiana Samoilova (she was also the star of the 1957 movie ‘The Cranes Are Flying’, the only Russian winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival).

Tatiana Samoilova as Anna Karenina and Vasiloy Lanovoy as Vronsky

Vronsky, meanwhile, was played by Vasily Lanovoy – at the time, Samoilova’s ex-husband, which only added more drama to their performances.

5. Maya Plisetskaya

Maya Plisetskaya in ‘Anna Karenina’ ballet movie

Even legendary prima ballerina Maya Plisetskaya appeared in the role of Tolstoy’s femme fatale. The Bolshoi Theater performance became the foundation of the 1974 ‘Anna Karenina’ ballet movie. At the time of filming, the ballerina was almost 50 years old, but she still managed to play the role of a 23-year-old woman in love brilliantly.

Maya Plisetskaya as Betsy, Vronsky’s cousin, in the 1967 movie

By the way, when she was younger, Plisetskaya also played a small role in another ‘Anna Karenina’ movie from 1967 – as Betsy, Vronsky’s cousin, where she stole the scene during her appearance at a horse race.

6. Jacqueline Bisset

Jacqueline Bisset and Christopher Reeve as Vronsky

The British actress and the star of ‘Rich and Famous’ (1981) played the main role in ‘Anna Karenina’ (1985) even before her success in the 1987 adaptation of the love between Napoleon and Josephine. However, critics didn’t receive the TV drama for CBS too well and it has a modest rating of 6.3 on IMDb.

7. Sophie Marceau

Sophie Marceau as Karenina and Sean Bean as Vronsky

Production company ‘Icon Productions’ worked on this ‘Anna Karenina’ (1997) alongside two Russian companies – movie studio ‘Lenfilm’ and TRITE studio. The movie was shot entirely in Russia. Despite the discrepancies between it and the original plot by Tolstoy, critics praised the cinematic language and the attention towards recreating the image of Russia of the 19th century – and, of course, beautiful Frenchwoman Sophie Marceau in tandem with Sean Bean.

Some scenes were filmed right in the Moscow Kremlin

By the way, the movie influenced the personal life of the actress herself. She soon left her husband, Polish director Andrzej Żuławski, for Jim Lampley, one of the movie’s producers.

8. Keira Knightley

Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina

It’s hard to call the Oscar-winning ‘Anna Karenina’ (2012) by Joe Wright a full-scale adaptation, it’s more of a theatrical sketch. Critics even criticized this movie for its fragmentary nature; however, everyone – including award judges – remembered its beautiful costumes. Keira Knightley was really believable and, as her heroine was supposed to appear, she genuinely irritated viewers.

Keira Knightley (Anna Karenina) and Jude Law (as her husband Alexei Karenin)

Against the backdrop of the mediocre acting of Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), the deceived husband Karenin (Jude Law) appeared very favorably – and it was him who reaped all the admiration of the audience.

9. Vittoria Puccini

Vittoria Puccini in ‘Anna Karenina’ TV series

Mini TV series ‘Anna Karenina’ (2013) with Italian actress Vittoria Puccini, filmed for television, received a good enough average score of 7.2 on IMDb. Critics thought this adaptation was decent, considering the high standing of the original. Another personal drama unfolded on the sets of this movie – after being in a relationship with actor Alessandro Preziosi, her co-star in the TV series ‘Elisa di Rivombrosa’, for 10 years, Puccini began an affair with cinematographer Fabricio Lucci.

10. Elizaveta Boyarskaya

Elizaveta Boyarskaya as Anna Karenina and her real-life husband, actor Maxim Matveev as Vronsky

The plot of Karen Shakhnazarov’s ‘Anna Karenina: Vronsky's Story’ (2017) is, meanwhile, told from Vronsky’s point of view; for the first time, the drama is focused on him – it’s he who is losing his love. However, there’s a serious discrepancy between this and Tolstoy: The director added another detail – Vronsky remembers his beloved many years later, while fighting in Manchuria in 1904 during the Russo-Japanese War.

Elizaveta Boyarskaya played the role of Karenina, while the role of Vronsky was played by Maxim Matveev, who is married to the actress in real life.

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