Anna Karenina opens with the invitation of Anna, the wife of Karenin, a government official based in Petersburg, to resolve a dispute between Dolly Oblonskaya and her husband, Stiva, whom she has caught having an affair with their children's former governess. Anna manages to mend the dispute between the two but at the same time Dolly's younger sister, Kitty, is being courted by two men: Count Levin, a wealthy landowner and a military man named Alexei Vronsky. Kitty decides on Vronsky in favour of Levin but the latter meets Anna Karenina and falls in love with her. This latest happening devastates the young Kitty and she falls ill while Anna returns to Petersburg. Vronsky pursues Anna to Petersburg.
At a party in Petersburg, Karenin notices the attraction between his wife and the military officer. He asks his wife about it but she curtly dismisses his accusation. He later notices similar interest when Vronsky falls and breaks his horse' back during a race. This time when he confronts her, Anna admits that she is indeed having an affair with the young military officer. This surprises Karenin but he later refuses Anna's request for a divorce, preferring instead to maintain the marriage at least in the public domain.
Kitty travels to Germany where she tries to regain her health at a spa where she meets Levin's brother Nikolai. Levin visits Dolly who encourages him to revive his interest in her sister Kitty. Levin later meets Kitty at a dinner party and the two fall in love again. they announce their engagement and later get married.
Anna announces that she is pregnant. This mars her relatioship with Vronsky who considers resignation from the military but later changes his mind. Karenin meets Vronsky one day and he finally admits to grant Anna the divorce she had wanted.
While undergoing delivery of her son, Anna begs for forgiveness from Karenin and its finally granted. Levin visits his dying brother and kitty insists on accompanying her. They comfort Nikolai in his last days.Stiva visits Levin accompanied by a friend, Veslovsky who flirts with Kitty prompting Levin to send him away.
Later Kitty discovers she is pregnant and gives birth to a son while in Moscow. Levin does not feel close to his son. He is taken by Stiva to visit Anna who enchants him though they had never met. Anna thinks Vronsky no longer loves her. Stiva urges Karenin to divorce Anna, but he refuses. Anna constantly quarrels with Vronsky accusing him of putting his mother before her. An agitated Anna sends Vronsky a telegram, goes to Dolly to bid her farewell and drives to the railway station to meet Vronsky where she throws herself before a train and is run over. She dies at the train station.
Levin starts questioning the meaning of life. The question is resolved when a peasant offers him advice that opens his eyes. When he together with Dolly and her children seek shelter from a raging storm, he discovers his wife and son missing, they are still outside. A giant tree falls, hit by lightning and he fears for the worst. This single event ignites feeling for his family, Kitty and son. He finds them alright.