Over the last month and a bit, Sunday evenings haven't felt as bad as usual- thanks, in no small part to the wonderful War & Peace adaptation which has been lighting up my television screen (and indeed my life!) since the start of January. As I touched on in a previous post, it has been end of the weekend escapism at its absolute best; beautiful to look at, with fantastic performances and a plot which left you impatient for the week to fly past so you could find out what was going to happen next. I'll admit it now- I haven't read the book, but did listen to the wonderful Radio 4 adaptation the Christmas before last (whilst simultaneously consulting Wikipedia to successfully differentiate my Rostovs from my Kuragins with as little confusion as possible!), but this interpretation has seriously exceeded all of my expectations and more.
I think more than anything, this adaptation has been so engaging because it's felt fresh- and discovering this collection of characters anew has been a welcome alternative to the usual stock of Sunday night telly staples. Compare the depiction of conflict in Downton with the brutality of battle in War & Peace. Everything is larger, with far higher stakes, and here credit must go to the programme makers for not shying away from including the blood, guts and gore which make up such a pivotal strand of the narrative. War & Peace is a story of contrasts in more than just title too. The characters feel real, accessible and utterly human- modelled on people Tolstoy knew and encountered in reality. Many of them are complete counterpoints to one another- Hèléne and Natasha couldn't be more different, and Prince Andrei and Pierre, although friends, are opposite sides of the same coin.
Ah, Pierre. Perhaps the most unlikely, unwitting hero ever, but a character who is completely endearing and who we see so much of the story through. Paul Dano's performance in this central role has been nothing short of extraordinary, and I hope so much that it's duly recognised. I don't know about you, but I grew to care more about Pierre than any other character- from his bumbling, idealistic beginnings to his battle-worn pragmatism, this was a performance pitched perfectly, encapsulating the essence of the everyman. In short, Pierre is the prism which allows us to access the story as if we were there trudging through the snow right beside him- but only when you've got someone as talented as Dano in the role do you believe in every single frozen footstep.
I could carry on- and there's so much more to be said. Dolokhov's wonderful hair. Jessie Buckley. Lily James. That glorious mise en scene which made everything look like a painting. Sashenka. Ilya Rostov's truly glorious collection of hats. Jim Broadbent. I'm already planning a rewatch so I'm sure there will be more waxing lyrical to come- and I'm ordering the book as I type this too. But, needless to say that by the time 9pm rolls around this evening I'll be feeling more bereft than poor old Sonya. Now, where's that DVD...??!!
Have you been watching War & Peace?
(Image credit: BBC.)