For the last 6 Sundays, I’ve felt a little frisson of pleasure as the evening approached, because soon it would be time for the next episode of War and Peace on the BBC!
BUT… the last episode was last Sunday, so yesterday, I was just a little lost. There’s just nothing to replace it.
In a way I’m actually glad I feel this way, because I suppose that’s the definition of a successful series. And I wasn’t entirely sure it would be! Although I was determined to watch it from the moment I heard about the new adaptation, I was prepared to be disappointed or even annoyed. Why? Because War and Peace is actually one of my favourite books of all time. OK, I admit that I skipped quite a lot of the philosophizing – of which there is much! – and some of the battle scenes, but I loved it because it is an intelligent, beautiful story that thoroughly invests you in the characters and makes you think. A lot of that is down to the central romances, of course, and the characters and tragedies surrounding them.
I’m also old enough to remember the last BBC adaptation in the 1970’s, which starred a young Anthony Hopkins as the bumbling, struggling, kind-hearted. Pierre. In fact it was that series that led me to the book, and I didn’t really see how this new version could live up to the last one.
So did it?
Well, it was different: a little more rushed, since they had to get it into just 6 episodes, and a little more graphic in terms of sex and gore. And it did introduce certain salacious oddities that weren’t in the book, like an incestuous relationship between Helene and Anatole Kuragin, But I could forgive this since it does emphasize the depravity of the characters concerned in a way that can still make modern audiences go “Ew.”
It must also be said that the settings and the costumes were sumptuous, and the battle scenes shockingly realistic. On the whole I think it was very cleverly adapted by Andrew Davies, (who has also been responsible for the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice, and for Middlemarch, which I also loved). The central story was all in there, and by the end it was truly moving. James Norton was rather good as the brooding Prince Andrei, and I take my hat off particularly to Paul Dano as Pierre, who managed his transformation from unhappy wastrel through suffering to some kind of serenity and understanding rather beautifully. I do feel he really deserved Natasha by the end! Lily James as Natasha grew quickly on me, too, although I felt her tragic reunion with Prince Andrei was rather rushed. On the other hand, her reunion with Pierre was deliciously romantic!
As for the final scene, which was meant to be some 9 years after the main event, it might have been rather more idyllic than Tolstoy’s more realistic portrayal of the family, but I feel it was true to the spirit of the book and an ultimately satisfying end.
Only now it’s the week after, and I’m not satisfied at all! There’s no season 2 to this story…