Review by Lauryn Angel
I had a friend in grad school who refused to read any book that had been made into a movie, or was likely to be made into a movie. She maintained that movie versions cut out all the “extra stuff” that didn’t really impact the plot. As I watched the eight-hour War & Peace mini-series co-produced by the BBC, A&E, Lifetime, and the History Channel, I could not help thinking of my friend, and how she would enjoy this production, which is very beautifully produced, but strips much of the political significance of Leo Tolstoy’s novel.
The adaptation, penned by Andrew Davies (who also adapted Pride and Prejudice and Bleak House for BBC, and Bridget Jones’ Diary for the big screen), focuses largely on the love triangle of Pierre Buzukhov (Paul Dano), Prince Andrei Bolkonski (James Norton), and Natasha Rostova (Lily James) set against the backdrop of war with Napoleon. The first hour is the most dense, as there are several characters to introduce, most of whom we meet at a party held by Anna Pavlovna (Gillian Anderson), which allows us brief character sketches of the important players. The acting is a bit uneven, with the best performances coming from the seasoned actors in smaller roles, such as Stephen Rea as the scheming Prince Vasily, Jim Broadbent as the elder Prince Bolkonski, and Brian Cox as General Kutuzov. Of the younger performers, Paul Dano is the most polished as the philosophical Buzukhov.
War & Peace is a lush costume drama that is beautiful to look at, even if it pares down the novel to little more than a soap opera. It’s good enough to hook viewers, and hopefully, like Davies’ 1995 Pride and Prejudice did for Austen’s novel, entice them to read Tolstoy’s great work.