Bizarrely shown on three cable channels, A&E, Lifetime, and History, the BBC’s adaptation of War and Peace seems to have come and gone without much notice. And it deserves a lot of attention because this is one of the most dazzling series I’ve ever seen.
Here’s one reason why it’s so brilliant:
I had never read it before but was blown away with what a wonderful story it is. I thought it would be daunting and oppressive, but you just love the characters. It feels modern and fresh – funny and sexy, even. It’s mostly about these exciting young people on the threshold of their lives… really it’s the most fun I’ve had since Pride and Prejudice.
That’s Andrew Davies, who wrote the screenplay for the 1995 P&P and who tackled Tolstoy’s huge masterpiece, which tells the story of three interwoven families plus a zillion secondary characters, against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. More from this interview with him and the cast from Harpers Bazaar.
Everything about this is superb–the acting: it stars a lot of familiar faces, such as Lily James as Natasha who was pretty much wasted in Downton Abbey, and was great (but not as great as in this passionately nuanced role) in P&P&Z; Edward Norton, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Rea, Paul Dano, Gillian Anderson, and many more. There’s a list here at bbc.co.uk where the actors talk about their characters.
It was filmed on location in Russia, Lithuania and Latvia, with lots of extras. There were extraordinary battle scenes (lots of blood), and a military advisor who’d seen action advised on these, so they had an amazing documentary sort of feel.
The retreat from Moscow was horrific and harrowing.
And the clothes, oh lordy the clothes (because if you visit this blog you know it all comes down to the clothes). Since we’re on the subject of warfare, I’ve never seen such splendid uniforms, embroidered, gilded, tasseled, and their wearers bursting with testosterone.
One of the few costume fails was the designer’s attempt to express Gillian Anderson wearing an ooh la la French number. Really? Could the costume historians among us chime in? Because somehow, oh, I don’t know, I think this looks more high school prom than anything else. One shoulder?!!
Most of the clothes were gorgeous.
To really get an idea of the clothes, and the quality of the production, you can see some selected scenes (but the longer clips can’t be viewed in the US) on the BBC’ s site:
You can take a quiz on your knowledge of the background of the book (I’m sad to say I failed miserably. Well, I did read it last in high school and that was a long, long time ago):
And here’s a truly swoonworthy excerpt of Natasha and Andrei (James Norton) dancing. He has truly humungous epaulettes.
Have you seen it? What did you think?
Costume first – agree, Gillian Anderson’s one shoulder gown was sooo out of era. In fact, a lot of the gowns in the first episode were not true to the period. Not sure about the quantities of gold braid on the uniforms but it made for eye-popping glamour.
The first two episodes were a sort of Twitter feed of characters but the series definitely gained power as it progressed. Paul Dano developed into a Pierre that I actually liked by the end. And the retreat from Moscow was so well done it was hard to watch.
Come and gone? Waaaaaaaah. I missed it?!! Will have to investigate options for trying to see it. I can’t believe I didn’t see a word about it anywhere in advance, but then, things have been very busy and perhaps I just wasn’t tuned in to the usual sources. (Honestly, I don’t live under a rock.) Before I commit, how many episodes? It’s a notoriously grand epic tale. But sounds like it would be worth the time spent. Thank you Janet!!
Ha! Found it, on “on demand” from Lifetime through my cable provider. Watched parts 1&2, and part 2, last night. Loved it! Can’t wait to watch some more –hope it stays available long enough for me to catch all of it. Thanks again Janet!
Ooooooh! I can’t wait to see it. Our national broadcasting company promised to show W&P in the fall. I love the book and really enjoyed the 2007 Europian miniseries starring Malcolm McDowell, Clémence Poésy and Alessio Boni. I don’t know if it has been shown in the US, but it’s good.
Greetings from Finland
Having read the book in both English and Russian (Do not ask how long the Russian took. My grad school Russian prof was a sadist.) I am looking forward to seeing this adaptation. I will probably end up waiting for it to come out on DVD as I do not have television – cable or otherwise in my house. I have heard good things about it, which says a great deal as it is something of an epic undertaking to communicate the sweep and grandeur and agony of the book.