A new movie of Anna Karenina has been attacked by film fans because the hero — described as dark-haired in the classic novel — looks like a “blond poodle”.
They say the portrayal of Count Vronsky by actor Aaron Johnson — who stars opposite Keira Knightley — couldn’t be further removed from the brooding cavalry officer created by author Leo Tolstoy.
Many who have seen a trailer have poked fun on the internet at Johnson’s blond locks and “dandy” costume. One wrote: “I don’t care how beautiful this man is, Vronsky should be dark and dangerous, not blond and poodley.”
Another added: “Bad feeling about the new Anna Karenina film. Is it because Count Vronsky seems to have had his hair and make-up done by the X-Factor team?”
Fans point out that Johnson, who is married to the artist Sam Taylor-Wood and who played John Lennon in the 2009 bio-pic Nowhere Boy, is naturally dark-haired.
The film, which also stars Jude Law, Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery, Emily Watson and Olivia Williams, opens on Friday.
The reinvention of the character is in stark contrast to Tolstoy’s first description of Vronsky.
The Russian novelist wrote: “Vronsky was a squarely built, dark man, not very tall, with a good-humoured, handsome, and exceedingly calm and resolute face.
“Everything about his face and figure, from his short-cropped black hair and freshly shaven chin down to his loosely fitting, brand-new uniform, was simple and at the same time elegant.”
The novel, which focuses on the love triangle of heroine Anna, her husband Alexei — played by Law — and Vronsky, was named the greatest ever written in a poll of 125 contemporary authors in 2007.
There have been countless film and television adaptations but this is the believed to be the first time anyone has chosen to make Vronsky blond.
Other actors to take on the iconic role include Sean Connery, who starred opposite Claire Bloom in a 1961 TV version; Christopher Reeve, who appeared with Jacqueline Bisset in another production for TV in 1985; and Sean Bean, who played Vronsky in a 1997 big-screen version with Sophie Marceau as Anna.
Previous adaptations have been criticised for failing to capture the emotional complexities of the novel.
Producers hope the new version, which was scripted by Sir Tom Stoppard and made by Atonement director Joe Wright, will have an edgier and sexier feel.
Some academics have wondered if the makeover of Vronsky is part of an attempt to tap into some of the deeper themes of the novel.
Professor Andy Kaufman, a Tolstoy expert at the University of Virginia, said: “One of Tolstoy’s themes is the conflict between Russian values and Western values, and there’s the idea that Vronsky, as a Westernised, particularly Germanised, Russian would be an outsider, and his having blond hair could be a way of demonstrating that.
But Tolstoy biographer Professor Anthony Briggs said: “I can’t see any point or justification in giving him a kind of Nordic hairdo.”
A spokeswoman for the film was unable to account for Vronsky’s transformation.