Keira Knightley captures the essence of Tolstoy’s femme fatale in the newest film version of his book “Anna Karenina.” Not only is it a lavish costume drama, it conveys the opulence, decadence and corruption of late 19th Century Russia.

The latter, of course, was the whole point of the book.

Anna is consumed by her own passion and the romanticism of the era. Caught in a loveless marriage with Count Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin (Jude Law), who is 20 years older, she eventually pursues the much younger Count Alexei Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), The dashing cavalry officer is consumed by her at first meeting.

Keira Knightley, Love Sex, Betrayal

Ironically, Anna is initially portrayed as a defender of marriage and a beacon of stability. She convinces his brother’s wife to forgive her husband for having an affair with the family’s governess.

When Vronsky confesses his love for her, she initially rebuffs him and returns to her husband and son. But she can’t deny her feelings and admits to herself that she finds her husband repulsive.

Her affair soon blossoms but as much as she loves Vronsky, their affair becomes the ruin of her. Meanwhile, Count Karenin shows unusual patience and forgiveness toward Anna after she confesses her affair to him.

“That is one of the things that destroys her the most, the inability to play the game,” Knightley told Entertainment Weekly in a recent interview.

“I quite liked that. Society is about performing and isn’t necessarily about being natural to yourself or honest. It’s about playing by the rules, and those people that don’t, the pack turns on them. I think that’s as true today as it was back then.”

In another irony, Anna is shunned by society when word spreads about the affair while Vronsky continues to be accepted.

“She’s the anti-heroine as well as the heroine,” says Knightley. “It’s kind of the choice to play her as not always completely likable or innocent, as well as obviously the entire take on the film — the theatrical, kind of stylized thing.”

For more from the interview, check out Entertainment Weekly, and check out Knightley’s stunning photos. The film is in theaters now.

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