War and Peace

War and Peace

(M) Paul Dano, James Norton and Lily James

Based on the world-renowned novel by Leo Tolstoy, BBC’s War & Peace is a period drama set during Russia’s involvement in the Napoleonic war. The book is famous (or perhaps infamous) for its dense web of characters (25 in total!) and convoluted story line. BBC’s War & Peace, however, offers this magnificent-but-somewhat-overwhelming alternative to anyone interested in Tolstoy’s classic (but is intimidated by 1,225 pages). This is BBC’s second re-make of Tolstoy’s magnum opus, and it more than lives up to the expectations sparked by the legendary source material.

The six-part series begins in 1805, as Napoleon’s army begins to invade Austria. It focuses on five families – the Kuragins from St Petersburg (notorious schemers close to the Tsar), The Rostovs (slowly succumbing to financial ruin), the Bolkonsky family, the Drubetskoy family and the Bezukhov family, to whom the main character belongs.

The series opens in the Russian city of St Petersburg, with beautiful panoramas of the city’s historic architecture. Napoleon’s exploits in Western Europe are only just beginning to stir fear among the Russian people. During a soirée hosted by the city’s aristocracy, many of the main characters are introduced – including Pierre Bezukhov (Paul Dano), the illegitimate son of a wealthy count. His father dies soon after and Pierre becomes one of the richest people St Petersburg. Those who originally shunned his presence begin to fight for his affections. This starts a course of events set to change the life of all of those around him – for better and for worse.

BBC’s War & Peace takes a classic story and successfully modernises it for a new generation. Transforming a book into a series is no easy feat, let alone one of the largest and greatest classics ever written. In vintage BBC–style, the series is polished to perfection with superb acting, brilliant costumes and mesmerising scenery, leaving you to revel at the beauty and simultaneous horror that was 19th century Russia.

Tolstoy’s fame as an author comes from his unparalleled skill in characterisation. His characters are the most psychologically enchanting of any author in history, and he uses them to discuss profound themes such as human motives and the meaning of life. In the book, his only restrictions are the minds and imagination of his readers. On the screen, though, the only limitations are the director’s ability to select a mesmerising cast.

It is no surprise then, that director Tom Harper selected an all-star cast to play the most important characters in literature history. By far, main-man Paul Dano is the most memorable star. Text meets screen seamlessly as Dano expresses all the intrinsic traits of Tolstoy’s most important character – intelligence, nobility, sensibility and sometimes, recklessness.

Pair all these factors with a multi-million-dollar budget, breathtaking locations, and set decorations that match the era to its smallest of nuances, BBC’s War & Peace has succeeded in adapting the novel where others have failed. The six-part miniseries transports you to another time, and you see not just beauties in furs and waltzes in golden halls, but deep into the human condition within love and war.

Looking Deeper

What does the Bible say about the meaning of life? (Matthew 6:33)

What does the Bible say about irrational motives? (1 John 3:12)

Toya Gattas

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