British filmmaker Joe Wright is winning praise for his fresh interpretation of Leo Tolstoy's classic Anna Karenina.

Based on a screenplay by British playwright Tom Stoppard, his sumptuous adaptation revisits Tolstoy's acclaimed exploration of 19th century Russian high society and its morals through the tale of a married aristocrat's infidelity. The cast includes Keira Knightley, Jude Law and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

The notion of theatricality is a major stylistic device in Wright's adaptation, which was inspired by the "magic kingdom" of a puppet theatre run by his parents.

"It's a metaphor for the way in which Russian society at the time viewed itself," he told CBC News.

"They were constantly performing for each other [these] roles. They kind of aspired to be Parisian, basically. So they were kind of playing these characters from a Parisian romantic fiction."

Anna Karenina reunites Wright with Knightley for a third period project, after Atonement and Pride and Prejudice. But the director of Hanna and The Soloist says he isn't drawn to simply rehashing tales from the past.

"I don't really see period films as a genre of themselves. I kind of see them as fantasies. I'm not interested in historical reenactment," he said.

"They're fantasies in as much as they allow me to investigate, play within the world of illusion and dream and all of that kind of stuff."

Wright talked to CBC’s Eli Glasner about encouraging audiences to use their own imaginations, what he’s learned after making three films with Knightley and the notable performance of young actor Domhnall Gleeson.