Gemma Allport investigates whether the BBC’s new Blockbuster period drama really is as good as it is made out to be…
Before the first episode of War and Peace was aired the BBC revealed that they had spent a RIDICULOUSLY large sum of money producing the series (think hundreds of thousands and you’ll just be starting to get close). In particular, no cost was spared when producing authentic looking costumes and by filming on location in Russia, Latvia and Lithuania. But was it really worth spending all that money? After all, there are only six episodes; surely the same thing could have been done on a much smaller budget on home soil?
The answer to such questions however is… No. Definitely not. Absolutely, 100% worth every single penny. MAGICAL- says-everyone-who-has-been-watching-the-series-so-far-and-may-have-a-mild-addiction-to-BBC-period-dramas.
The locations used as the setting for the drama are truly breath-taking. Sweeping, vast landscapes of rural countryside and stately houses you could probably fit around 200 standard British homes into that are practically dripping with gold provide the perfect backdrop for this tale of love, loss and life. If you are going to do a TV adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace then you might as well do it properly- and this is exactly what the BBC have done.
To match such breath-taking settings the BBC have employed an equally breath-taking and talented cast; consisting of Lily James (Downton Abbey), Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood, Little Miss Sunshine) and Gillian Anderson (X-Files) to name but a few. Paul Dano in particular has proven to be quite the gem of an actor. As his first leading role in a BBC drama, Dano’s character, Pierre Bezukhov, is both irresistibly likeable and incredibly infuriating at the same time. Now three episodes in and (presumably) around halfway through the content of Tolstoy’s 1,200 page long masterpiece, Pierre has already experienced several trials and tribulations- to such an extent in fact that you are left wondering whether it will be possible for his character to achieve a happy ending at all! It seems Tolstoy enjoyed putting his characters through such turmoil though as, over the course of all his characters’ lives thus far, many of them have experienced more than their fair share of woos and woes.
Yet, as we have seen in James Norton’s (of Happy Valley fame) character Prince Andrei Bolkonsky; even when you hit rock bottom there’s always a way of picking yourself back up again! Although in this case it may involve a bit of treading on his best friends- Pierre’s- toes… oops?
The seamless weaving and intersecting of all the different characters individual tales is one of the most beautiful things about this TV adaptation. Directed by Tom Harper- who also directed BBC’s hit drama Peaky Blinders– War and Peace takes us on a journey through the lives of several young Russian aristocrats heading out into the big wide world of adulthood, maturity and responsibility.
The fact that they don’t seem to cope with this very well though is to some extent quite reassuring. I say this because, at least from Tolstoy’s perspective, young people back in the early 1800’s seem to have had just about as much of a clue about what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives as the majority of us avid students do…. although at least in modern times we don’t have to worry about Napoleon trying to kill us all.
As you have probably already guessed in relation to my last statement, the ‘war’ part of War and Peace is in reference to the Napoleonic wars- against which Tolstoy creates his novels backdrop. The effect of the war is played out in several different ways and always in opposition to how the characters are depicted as achieving- or, in some cases, not achieving- peace. Peace in this series is more than just about the resolution of warfare. It is about the characters being able to secure peace with themselves; with their lifestyle choices and familial situations. The idea that Tolstoy’s tale is in fact ‘timeless’ could not be any truer in this sense then for is this not what we all hope to secure in life? Peace and happiness? Knowing that we have done the best we could with what we’ve got?
Some characters deserve to receive more than their just deserts (i.e. the formidable yet stunning Helene Kuragina, played by the up and coming actress Tuppence Middleton) but for the most part, I sincerely hope the majority characters in this beautifully rendered tale are able to achieve their happy endings. However, as we are now at the halfway point in the series there is still all to play for and I know myself, as well as many other millions of viewers, will be holding our breath in eager anticipation for the next episode of what is turning out to be another BBC drama masterpiece.
Don’t forget- there’s still time to catch up on the last three episodes by visiting BBC iPlayer at: