As far as Sunday dramas go, the latest adaptation of War and Peace surely must be up there. It had costumes, fantastic acting, battle scenes and sex scenes. Something for everyone.
I won’t go into the plot. There’s some jolly, peacetime stuff with the nobility of Moscow and St Petersburg. Then Napoleon enters and the young men we’ve got to know enter into war. War and peace.
What made this adaptation so good were three things: the acting, the grandeur and the plotting.
Lily James and James Norton were the stand-out stars for me. Every look, every pained utterance from either of them was spot on and they went through the spectrum of human emotion both together and apart.
Paul Dano was also one to watch, interesting to see him in a costume drama rather than an American indie film. It strangely suited him, although his character (Pierre Bezukhov) made the most moronic decisions. (Who just wanders onto a battlefield and asks if anyone needs help?)
Jim Broadbent’s tantrums were also phenomenal. Can he be called a national treasure yet?
Then there’s the settings: the camerawork in the ballroom scenes, spinning around the dancers and zooming in on the important faces, was something special. While the battle scenes were spectacular in scale.
Thirdly, I’ve seen comments that the show’s plot went by ‘too fast’, stuffed as it was into six episodes. Indeed the show’s writer recently said perhaps it should have been longer. But I think it worked just fine: after all, those who want to know all the ins and outs can and will read the book. The whole point of a TV adaptation is to make it easier to digest and more accessible to all. That worked well and kept the pacing such that you wanted more each week.
Watching the show as someone who has never quite dared begin reading the book yet – and didn’t end up finishing last January’s 10-hour BBC4 radio version – it was perfect.