Show name: War and Peace
Release date: 2016
Genre: Period drama
Starring: Paul Dano, Lily James, Stephen Rea, Tuppence Middleton
Written by: Andrew Davies
Studio: BBC One
Length: 6 episodes
Tolstoy’s epic novel War and Peace has been adapted a number of times, including as a Hollywood film starring Audrey Hepburn.
The most recent production was in 2016 when the BBC filmed a six-part adaptation in Russia and the Baltic Republics.
This adaptation starred Lily James as Natasha and Paul Dano as Pierre.
When War and Peace begins it is 1805 and Napoleon is making his mark on Europe. But in St Petersburg and Moscow the usual round of balls and social events continues uninterrupted.
Pierre is the illegitimate son of Count Bezukhov. He barely knows his father and expects nothing by way of recognition or inheritance.
Some spirited manoeuvring by Pierre’s distant cousins Prince Vassily (Stephen Rea) and Anna Drubetskaya (Rebecca Front) follows.
The latter prevails, courtesy of some sleight of hand around the count’s will, and Pierre becomes immensely rich as the new Count Bezukhov.
Pierre is greatly influenced by Prince Vassily in the weeks that follow, and he unwittingly ends up engaged to the prince’s beautiful but dangerous daughter Helene (Tuppence Middleton).
They have little in common and the marriage quickly fails. After this, Pierre returns to the country determined to improve the lives of his serfs and tenant farmers.
Pierre’s close friend Prince Andrei is on the verge of becoming a father when the Russian army is called to fight in Austria against the French.
He leaves his wife with his sister and father at the family’s estate in the country, but worries about whether Lise will survive the birth.
Meanwhile in Moscow, the Rostov family are busy enjoying being rich and happy. Witnessing the contented marriage of their parents leads the children Natasha and Nikolai (Jack Lowden) to wonder when their turns will come to find love.
Nikolai, Andrei and many other aristocrats become officers and head for war.
After the initial period of warfare, where Andrei is injured and Nikolai earns a promotion, the army returns home to Russia when peace is negotiated.
There is a return to the usual social engagements and country living. Natasha meets Andrei, who is now a widower, and they eventually become engaged.
Pierre and Helene reconcile for appearances’ sake, though she continues to have a series of lovers.
Andrei’s father is reluctant to agree to his marriage to Natasha, so the couple are apart for a year while he travels abroad. She breaks the engagement and is almost ruined by a plot engineered by Helene and her brother Anatole.
When the French invade Russia, Moscow is abandoned. The Rostovs flee the city, and Pierre, who has been observing the fighting, is taken prisoner by the French. Andrei is gravely wounded.
War and Peace is an amazing epic story of armies and romance set against a backdrop of urban luxury and simpler rural living.
The filming of the BBC adaptation included famous Russian landmarks such as the Hermitage in St Petersburg. These were truly spectacular.
There were also other filming locations which brought out the greater simplicity of rural living at the time. The battle scenes were well done, and the many scenes involving cavalry were fascinating.
No one does costume drama like the BBC, so attention to period detail in hair, costume, language and mannerisms was exceptional.
This was a faithful adaptation of the book with a stellar cast that still gave plenty of space for the central love story: that of Pierre and Natasha.
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