The BBC are showing their adaptation of Tolstoy’s War & Peace right now – 6 episodes, and next Sunday is the finale. I have been watching it religiously every week and am very much enjoying it. It was adapted for the screen by Andrew Davies (from 1995’s Pride and Prejudice fame).
I won’t go into the plot here, Wikipedia can tell you much more than I can. Suffice it to say that it is set at the beginning of the 19th century in Russia and it involves 3 main characters with of course many characters surrounding them. I never read War & Peace, the prospect has always been a litle too daunting. I did see the 1950’s movie version with Audrey Hepburn, which I remember quite enjoying but it’s so long ago since I watched that, I don’t remember too much of it. Going into this BBC series I did have expectations, though. I expected to be rooting for the main female character Natasha and for Prince Andrei and I hoped to like the character of Pierre. Now, 5 epsiodes in and almost at the end, I find I am rooting for two different characters than I expected to!
It turns out that Prince Andrei (James Norton on the right), while brooding and sexy, is a little too depressing for me. James Norton does do a great job as Andrei and I already liked him in Death Comes to Pemberley but I find the character a little too down. Natasha (Lily James) goes from bubbly to sobered up and while the acting is great – I don’t know, Lily James just does not do it for me (she didn’t do it for me in the Cinderella movie either. I never saw her in Downton Abbey so I wouldn’t know about that). No, the one I love most in this adaptation is flawed, searching, idealistic Pierre (Paul Dano on the left). He has a vulnerability, insecurity, warmth and yes, dorkiness about him that is just so touching. I liked him from the get go and then, at the end of episode 3, when he watches Andrei and Natasha dance (which really is a magical dance scene!) and later urges his friend Andrei to ask for Natasha’s hand in marriage – that sealed the deal for me!
Andrei and Natasha, yes, they’re fine together, but what I love more is Andrei’s and Pierre’s friendship! When they are on the screen together, talking about life and it’s challenges, that’s when War & Peace becomes magical to me.
I am not the only one who thinks Paul Dano is a revelation. A Radio Times piece states exactly the same thing! I quote:
“While it was a lovely moment when Andrei (James Norton) revealed that he was in love with Natasha (Lily James), it was Pierre’s “go get her” speech that really gave us goosebumps. Because as he smiled at his friend’s happiness, the glimmer of grief in his eyes, the pain of unrequited love, was almost unbearable. And this week, when Pierre, bleary eyed and unfit for war, abandoned his idealism to bathe in Napoleon’s bloodbath, he was the most mesmerising character on-screen.”
The female character that I find I am rooting for most is Prince Andrei’s long suffering sister Marya, who is really treated very harshly by her father. She is played beautifully by actress Jessie Buckley, who I recently saw at the cinema in the National Theatre Live production of A Winter’s Tale (with Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench). I really liked her in that too. She’s someone to watch out for!
Due to her austere father Marya has escaped into a reclusive, hyper religious life, taking care of her little nephew (Prince Andrei’s son from his first wife who died). Now that her father is dead, she seems to be blossoming a little and the beginning of that transformation is beautiful. I can’t wait to see how that develops over the next (and last) episode.
So, yes, I am enjoying War & Peace but for different reasons than I imagined! Oh, and the acting from everyone in this is really excellent. Well worth a watch!