5th May 2000 at 01:00
More people topping themselves in posh frocks. It's one way to sum up Anna Karenina, especially if you have recently suffered along with Mme Bovary on BBC television. But there is every chance that this four-episode, four-and-a-half-hour adaptation of Tolstoy's classic, beginning on Channel 4 next Tuesday, will offer a bit more than Russian lust and steam trains.

For a start, there's the cast: Helen McCrory plays Anna and Kevin McKidd her lover Vronsky; Mark Strong is Anna's philandering brother Oblonsky and Douglas Henshall plays the country-loving Levin, generally regarded as the spokesman for Tolstoy's reforming ideals. They are all familiar from television or film - McKidd was in Trainspotting and Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy, Strong was in Our Friends in the North, Henshall in Kid in the Corner and Fast Food - but they are strong actors rather than glamour figures.

The first, 90-minute, episode establishes the rapport between Anna and Vronsky and testifies to the work put in between takes by McCrory and McKidd. Filming can be a hit-and-miss affair, with little time for rehearsal. On location in Poland - more accessible to foreign film crews than Russia - the two principals spent hours together working out motivation and solving practical acting problems. The intelligence and sincerity of their interpretation is enough to persuade the viewer to embark on the long journey of their story.

Their first sexual encounter is cleverly handled by director David Blair (well known from The Lakes and Takin' over the Asylum): it is passionate and reckless, but not as explicit as it seems. As Anna's husband, Karenin, Stephen Dillane - if younger and more attractive than most readers' picture of him - manages a combination of anxious light-heartedness and, when he realises the truth of his wife's affair, utter devastation. The close-up of his face at the end of episode one is itself a lesson in understated acting.

This Anna attempts to encompass the epic sweep of the original, the intertwined stories of Kitty and Levin, Dolly and Oblonsky as well as Anna and Vronsky, against a picture of late 19th-century Russia. It is an ambitious attempt, but while television can never do the novel justice, this adaptation - a truthful, but free-wheeling one - will be enjoyable in its own right and may even recruit new readers.

There is news of film at the other end of the scale, for four to seven-year-olds - and not just to watch. John Cary Studios wants to follow up The Adventures of Captain Pugwash with a new animated series for television called Moggy. The "star" is ready for adventure, but the studios would like some help with storylines. Year 6 pupils are invited to take part in a competition, jointly organised with Film Educaton, which will build on curriculum requirements for English and IT. Details are announced today on the studio's website: and entries must arrive by July 31. Prizes will include computer hardware.

The West Yorkshire Playhouse's hard-hitting drugs education programme, Head On II, comes to an end today. Leeds high school teachers have this year been involved in the peer-led project - organised by the Base 10 Drug Advice Agency - which began in 1998. Sixth-formers have worked with their teachers to develop drama on alcohol abuse which they have presented to younger students. Other pieces, monologues by Mary Cooper, have been acted in schools and at the theatre and include debate and audience participation. Head On will reappear in the Playhouse schedules in the near future. Contact Gail McIntyre on 0113 213 7800.

The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra is to celebrate music and young people as its contribution to Music Live 2000. On May 27 the orchestra will accompany the finalists for the BBC Young Musician of the Year at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. The following day, at 4pm, Radio 3 will broadcast a collaboration between the Philharmonic, the other five BBC orchestras and the Ulster Orchestra which have been working with young and old all over the UK to create and perform a new work. Each of the ensembles will record a six-minute segment to be linked by composer and saxophonist John Harle. On May 29, the next Blue Peter Family Concert will be at Bridgewater Hall and will introduce music from all over the world. Tickets: 0161 907 9000.

The Royal Philharmonic Society's awards were presented on Wednesday. In the education section, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival won an award for its first education project. Two composer-teachers, Fraser Trainer and Colin Riley, visited seven Kirklees secondary schools giving advice to GCSE students, some of whose pieces were then presented by the Kaleidoscope ensemble. For information about future projects: 01484 425082.

Two book festivals are imminent: Book It! Spring Weekend is at Cheltenham tomorrow and on Sunday, and the Derbyshire Millennium Literature Festival runs from this weekend until the end of July. At Cheltenham children can meet writers Kaye Umansky, Colin Hawkins and Anthony Browne while their parents listen to Andrew Motion and Malcolm Bradbury. The Derbyshire fest opens with a giant picnic on four sites and includes storytelling and street theatre as well as exhibitions, poetry readings and walks and talks based on The Railway Children - the Nesbit characters' country retreat is said to be based on a cottage at New Mills in the High Peaks. Information: and Heather Neill

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