War and Peace. This four part miniseries, based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy, was filmed in 2007 and stars Clémence Poésy as the somewhat spoiled Natasha Rostova, and Alessio Boni as the army officer Prince Andrej Bolkonsky. The program has been broadcast in Belgium and France, but made its US debut on "Best of British TV" streaming online from Acorn TV in July of this year. The DVD is available on Sept. 24.
The story begins with preparations for a big party in celebration of Natasha Rostova's name day. The Rostova family has three children, including boys Nikolaj (who is anxious to go off to war) and young Petja, who idolizes Nikolaj. During the party, Natasha sees (and instantly falls in love with) Prince Andrej. Andrej is married, but his not happy with his pregnant wife Lise, and tells anyone who will listen about how he's "trapped" in his marriage. A Rostova family friend, Pierre, arrives from Paris before the party begins. Pierre has spent most of his recent time carousing with his dissolute friends. Although illegitimate, Pierre arrives at his dying father's bedside just in time to be named heir to the estate and to inherit the title Count Bezukhov. The financial advisor Kuragin, who had been expecting to take over the estate, fumes, but luckily, he has a pretty daughter, Helene. Helene didn't have much time for Pierre before he became wealthy, but she finds him much more interesting after the death of his father (isn't that always the way?).
After Czar Alexander and Napoleon declare a truce, Andrej returns home. His wife has died and that leaves him free to become engaged to Natasha (funny, since before he was eager to leave the prison of marriage behind!). His father once again shows his controlling nature by demanding that Andrej wait a year to be married. Things are heating up on the Polish border, and he has volunteered Andrej to go and advise the army there. Natasha is unhappy, but declares she will wait the year for her true love.
The story continues with fortunes lost, old loves betrayed, new loves met and unpleasant people getting their comeuppance. Napoleon is sent back to France, never having achieved his dream of "bringing culture and civilization" to Russia. Oh well.
I had never read the novel before, but I did have the impression that it was filled with so many characters it was hard to keep up with everyone. The film wasn't quite that bad, although the extra feature "War & Peace by the Numbers" does state that there were 15,000 extras used in the filming. There were an awful lot of troops seen marching on both sides! The extras also mention that the beautiful interior shots were filmed at the Russian imperial palaces of Peterhof and Pushkin in St. Petersburg.
I must admit, I had a hard time with all the Princes, Princesses, and Countesses. It was a bit strange that Andrej's father made such a fuss about Natasha being from a low-class family, when she was a Countess! Of course, he wouldn't have been happy with anyone, but surely the Rostovas weren't much lower on the social scale? All the houses looked quite splendid, everyone had servants, and they were forever packing up and moving back and forth between country and city houses. It was all a bit confusing and hard to figure out the pecking order.
Overall, the settings were beautiful and all the battle scenes were impressive. I thought the historical information was presented in an interesting manner, and I really enjoyed the Russian General Kutuzov, who was able to win the war by retreating. A brilliant military strategist, for sure!
Disclaimer: I received a copy of War and Peace from Acorn Media in exchange for this review
Final Verdict for War and Peace:
Four Gherkins, for being a spectacular look at a classic novel coming to life
7 hours ago