The book “War and Peace” has been made into a movie several times with the most memorable being the 1956 version starring Audrey Hepburn. While that particular 3 hour plus film did a very good job of bringing the romance from the book onto the big screen, it’s now considered a relic compared to the production values that have followed. With that in mind the recent War & Peace produced by BBC for television gets some awesome cinematography and editing, but never equals the chemistry between the characters in the 1956 version. Now on Blu-ray, the 8 part miniseries tells Tolstoy’s 1424 page book in approximately 6 hours.
The classic story centers on Russia’s newly rich Count Pierre Bezukhov (Paul Dano) who recently inherited the most valuable estate in the country. Others include his chosen wife Hélène Kuragina (Tuppence Middleton), his best friend Andrei Bolkonsky (James Norton) and Natasha Rostova (Lily James) the love of Andrei’s life. All are members of the upper crust and carry titles. During the course of the extravagant tale, we find the four interacting in the lives of a number of characters who are part of the changing world of 1800’s Moscow and Saint Petersburg. It’s a magnificent time and a trying period of a growing aristocracy on the verge of a war against French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
Being a “newcomer” to his wealth, Pierre, a plain man with little knowledge of society’s workings seeks a wife and acceptance as part of the nobility. Before inheriting his massive estate he only dreamed of courting and marring a beautiful woman that would love him for who he has become. Never even think of noticing him, Princess Hélène, a free spirited woman who knows how to control those around her, sees an opportunity to live a life of luxury as a countess. She takes advantage of Pierre’s naiveté and becomes his bride.
Our other protagonists, Andrei and Natasha are victims of love at first sight. While Andrei looks to become a war hero by lining up to face Napoleon, Natasha finds herself dreaming of the day she will marry him. The two run the risk of becoming star crossed lovers when Andrei’s father Prince Nikolai Bolkonsky (Jim Broadbent) wants his son to separate from her for a year to prove the bond is strong enough for marriage.
The story movies along at a very nice pace integrating new characters and changing their lives within the shifting plot. Director Tom Harper works as a very good task master getting his actors to show the good, bad and ugly of the lives they depict during this gripping period in Russian history. Excellent camerawork and special effects work magic, showing key elements like the opera house and battlefields with realistic detail. Russian armies march into battle as if invincible, sabers drawn and hand to hand combat. His scenes are very realistic. The landscape turns bloody, the blades of the Russian troops swing and stab, the horses fall to the ground along with the soldiers and ballistics from the French cannons explode all around.
The lavish production has all the splendid period costumes, amazing sets and make-up depicting the glory that was the 1800’s upper class Russia. It’s a costume drama and puts a worthwhile cast member into each of the roles. What they lack in chemistry between central characters however, gets evened out by the engrossing story itself.
The Blu-ray disc has the following special features on disc 2;
“From page to screen” with screenwriter Andrew Davies reading a few scenes and showing how he adapted Leo Tolstoy’s book.
“The read through” all the main characters in the film gather around a huge table and read for Director Tom Harper.
“Making the Music” Director of Music Michael Garvay and composer Martin Phipps go talk about the musical score.
“Count Rostov’s Dance” Diana Scrivener goes over the choreography of the several types of dancing in the production.
“Rundale Palace” historical background on the palace used in the film.
“What is War and Peace” comments by the director and actors on the characters.
War & Peace has been rated TV-14 for war violence and gore.
FINAL ANALYSIS: The cinematography is superb and the story gets told in classical fashion. (B-)
Specifications and additional video information:
Cast: Paul Dano, Lily James, James Norton, Tuppence Middleton, Jessie Buckley, Jack Lowden, Brian Cox, Greta Scacchi, Aisling Loftus, Stephen Rea, Tom Burke, Callum Turner, Gillian Anderson, Jim Broadbent, Adrian Edmondson
Directed by: Tom Harper
TV Rating: TV-14
Genre: Drama, Period Piece, War
Running Time: 5 hours
Original TV Release Date: January 2015 (BBC)
Video Release Date: May 10, 2016
Reviewed Format: Blu-ray (also available on DVD)
Audio: DTSHD-MA 5.1
Video: Widescreen, Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Number of Discs: 2 Blu-ray Discs
Distributed by: Anchor Bay Entertainment