The Kreutzer Sonata - Bernard Rose’s updated version of Tolstoy’s famous novella about obsessive sexual jealousy

British director Bernard Rose clearly has a thing for those two 19th-century giants of music and literature Beethoven and Tolstoy. He turned out a Beethoven biopic, Immortal Beloved, back in 1994; made a period adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (starring Sophie Marceau and Sean Bean) in 1997; and reworked Tolstoy’s story ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich’ in a contemporary setting for 1999’s ivans xtc.

Now he brings his big passions together with The Kreutzer Sonata – a version of Tolstoy’s enigmatic 1889 novella, which was itself inspired by the eponymous Beethoven work.

Tolstoy’s story takes the form of a lurid confession by a well-heeled railway passenger to his fellow travellers. Rose keeps the first-person narrative but ditches the train and the costumes and updates the action from Tsarist Russia to modern-day Beverly Hills.

The Kreutzer Sonata - Danny Huston stars in Bernard Rose’s updated version of Tolstoy’s famous novella about obsessive sexual jealousy

The tale’s protagonist now becomes wealthy philanthropist Edgar Hudson (played by Danny Huston, terrific in ivans xtc and equally good here) and his confession is the story of how raging sexual jealousy consumes his marriage to concert pianist Abby (Elisabeth Röhm). Edgar’s mania is inflamed by Beethoven’s music after he arranges a benefit concert for the semi-retired Abby to perform the Kreutzer Sonata with handsome young violinist Aiden (Matthew Yang King)…

The Kreutzer Sonata is the second, after ivansxetc, in Rose’s planned trilogy of contemporary re-imaginings of Tolstoy. As in ivans xtc, he films on the fly using hand-held digital video cameras – which give the scenes of marital discord a convincing immediacy. The sex, too, is up-front and explicit, uncomfortably so, at times. The romantic triangle may only exist inside Edgar’s head, but as his mania rises in pitch, his obsessive jealousy gives Beethoven’s duet a neurotic urgency.

Released on 26th April.

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