Monday, 4 January 2016

The BBC attempt the impossible, a literary Behemoth in Six bite- size parts! And succeed!

At last a chance for me to see what all the fuss is about. I never got around to reading this mammoth Tome, but now I might have to, filling in the gaps that inevitably will occur when such a long story is condensed into six hourly parts.

Epic BBC costume drama War and Peace pulled in 6.3 million viewers yesterday evening, a 25% share of viewership in the 9pm slot, pitted against the Morse Prequel Endeavour, the Russians fared well.

Starring the beautiful Lily James  (Lady Rose or Cinderella depending on if you are aged over 10 or not), the handsome James Norton and the oddly geeky Paul Dano  playing Pierre, our three main protagonists. I am most familiar with Dano as the silent brother in Little Miss Sunshine, but with support from a bevy of famous faces, the tale of how the War with France affects three young Russian  lives provides much scope in this six part Adaptation of "the book that cannot be filmed" , written by my screenplay Hero, Mr Pride and Prejudice himself, Andrew Davies. He can do no wrong in my eyes. 

It is a bit of a gallop though with a huge number of characters introduced in very quick succession so keeping up with who is who is a challenge.

Brits already know that Gillian Anderson is able to "Do costume Drama" having been tremendously successful in adaptations of Bleak House and the House of Mirth, here she is  haughty snob whose  toadying to Prince Kuragin, played with Waspish delight by this season's BBC Darling Stephen Rea, (catch his marvellous turn as Detective Bucket in Dickensian) and  her utter disdain for his nephew Pierre, illegitimate son of the brother who holds all the real power is played beautifully.

Revolutionary and outspoken as he is, about the gentle folk in society having no clue about the realities of the common man or woman, young Pierre seems unlikely to be much in anyone's society. 

His friend Andrei  is equally dissatisfied with his lot in life, feeling constricted by society and the confines of Drawing rooms and assemblies and the responsibility of a pregnant wife, whose clinginess appears to driven them apart,  he claims to love her but easily sends off to the country so he can join the War against that Pesky  Napolean Bonaparte and his French Hordes. His relationship with his scholarly father is strained, but as ever the wonderful Jim Broadbent brings a lovable quality to his brusqueness, a kind of fettered affection,held in check to prevent a show, but there none the less. The only person he seems to share a deep affection for is his sweet sister.

Norton plays his depressive desolation with a kind of dullness behind his eyes even as he looks on at poor Pierre's unrequited affection for Helene played by another Dickensian actor Tuppence Middleton and almost acolyte following of her brother Anatole and his debauched and utterly abhorrent cohorts who drag poor Pierre into their misdeeds involving a policeman and a bear despite Andrei's timely warning to stay away! Dying in war is preferable to the slow agonising journey to the Grave in "Good Company" that Andrei foresees. 

Power and money Corrupts and many a Social Faux Pas may be overlooked when the culprit is in possession of both. Something that Helene and Anatole have known since birth along with debaucher and bit of a bad egg  Dolokhov ( played with Gusto by Three Musketeer's Tom Burke ) but his particular disgrace results in his being placed in the ranks

 A twist of fate suddenly elevates Pierre making him suddenly very desirable indeed! Despite the determined efforts of Count Kuragin, he inherits the sizeable estate his uncle has coveted.

Meanwhile, gentle,  romantic and playfully childlike Natasha is filled with notions of matchmaking, spoiled slightly by her uncle and  toying with the affections of newly promoted Boris ( lovely Aneurin Bevan) and with Pierre too.

It seems the torch burns brighter for Pierre, whose suddenly improved fortunes are causing him to be thrown into the path of the scheming Helene and  Anatole (whose incestuous relationship is heavily hinted at in this adaptation) by their father who is determined to keep the wealth in the family. He is literally coraled into an engagement against his obvious misgivings.

Russian fortunes in this war are poor and the troops are withdrawing, Andrei volunteers for a fools errand an almost guaranteed suicide mission with a division being used as cannon fodder to allow the retreating troops room to flee. Young Nickolai  is naively excited about  the potential for glory in battle, but soon realises his unpreparedness for the horrors of war as his first skirmish leaves him injured and calling for help from any quarter.

I thoroughly enjoyed the episode with Dano and Norton proving strong. The Former  not revealing a trace of his American accent in his portrayal of idealistic Pierre. Lily James is slightly more grating as ingenue Natasha, but that is Natasha's youth rather than James's acting prowess .This I am sure will dissipate as her character matures. Beautifully shot, even the battle scenes were poetic and sweeping. Yes this one definitely is worth the wait!

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