Submitted on behalf of my Russian immigrant mother-in-law and student of Russian literature, who was very disappointed in this film version of War and Peace.
War and Peace is about three aristocratic families: St. Petersburg's Kuragins are close to the Tsar (Tolstoy uses irony to show his dislike of them); the provincial Rostovs, who are in the process of losing everything; and the Bolkonskys of the old aristocracy, who are favored by the author. The novel is huge and extremely detailed in its descriptions of characters and details of Russian life in the beginning of 19th century.
Leo Tolstoy intended his historical novel to be a majestic and profound one. In this film adaptation, "War" remains faithful to the novel. This is evident in the majestic panorama of the battle at Borodino, or the tragic escape of the broken and hungry French Army as they advance through the snow, and the impossible roads of a vast and empty Russia. However, "Peace" leaves much to be desired.
At the party of the house of the Grand Dame Anna Pavlovna Sherrer, one of the guests, Princess Drubetskaya, asks Prince Kuragin to find her son a safe (comfortable) position in the Tsar's army. In her gratitude she kisses Kuragin's hand. Why? Only servants kissed the hands of their owners, or children kissed the hands of their parents. So why does the princess kiss Kuragin's hand?
The house of Count Rostov in Moscow, shown in the movie several times from its backyard with livestock, such as pigs, chicken, etc., is not an accurate depiction of an aristocrat's home. No aristocrat's home, especially in a city such as Moscow, would have such a backyard. Furthermore, Pierre would never enter Rostov's home, or any home for that matter, through the backyard. That is a servant's entrance.
There is a certain responsibility when working with historical material. One must show respect to the epoch being shown and understand the significance of decorum, protocols of behavior, etc. It is equally important to have actors who correspond to the characters of the novel and the times in which they lived. Tuppence Middleton's portrayal of Helene Kuragina (later Bezukhova) was taken too far from the character of this classic. Tolstoy wrote of Helene's beauty as if she were a perfect Greek statue. Napoleon, seeing her in the theater, praised her beauty. Pierre, standing next to her, wanted to own this beauty. So, the scene of her having sex on the dinner table is so modern and vulgar that I am afraid poor Count Leo Tolstoy turned around many times in his grave, as the Russian proverb says.
Similarly, the character of Anatol Kuragin is also miscast. Callum Turner's portrayal of this character on screen is so far from how Anatol is developed in the novel that it leads to a fundamental misunderstanding of Natasha's behavior in the movie. In the novel, the young, beautiful, and smart Natasha (with her inner understanding of people) sees extreme beauty, bravery, confidence, and arrogance in Kuragin, and she is smitten. It is impossible to accept while watching this movie why Natasha has any passionate desire to run away with Anatol, who is played by a stiff, uncertain, and unhandsome actor.
I could go on in detail about several other characters and, to a point, I will: The stiffness and monotonousness of James Norton does not show all the transformations through the life of Tolstoy's favorite character, Andrei Bolkonsky. There is some luck despite the wrong appearance of the actor who plays Pierre Bezuhov. In the novel, Pierre is a huge bear of a man, sometimes even comical looking. Though he may not look his part, fortunately, the talented Paul Dano tries to play him accordingly to L. Tolstoy's idea of Pierre. And it seems Dano is the only actor here who read the novel and understood his character.
This film did not do justice to Tolsoy's telling of Russian aristocracy in the 19th century; it looks more like the petty bourgeoisie of some unknown country. But, thanks to the movie, I reread the novel with great pleasure. I am afraid, though, I and Paul Dano were the only ones who did.
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