Wednesday, January 27, 2016

All We Are Saying Is: Give 'War and Peace' a Chance

Здравствуйте! It is I, Arsenic Pie, your favorite Slavophile and BBC nerd, here to apprise you of the BBC production of War and Peace that everyone is ranting about. 

Война и мир

Need something to watch while you work on your Russian tricolor blanket knitting project? Have no fear. The BBC's adaptation of War and Peace has all the people sobbing in corsets and bodice ripping you need. Given the current posturing by various presidential candidates who shall remain nameless, BBC's adaptation comes just in time to remind us all that pissing off Russia is a really fucking bad idea. 

This is Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon invaded Russia. Napoleon got his ass kicked. Don't be like Napoleon.

I've seen every BBC costume drama on the planet, so trust me when I say that their War and Peace is a competent production, albeit very, very typical output from the BBC. However, the incest in this is new. Usually the BBC = not much incest. Not a whole lotta brother/sister groping going on in Jane Austen, know what I'm sayin'?

No, it doesn't reach the storied glories of Soviet director Sergei Bondarchuk's 1967 adaptation. However, if you want to watch people sporting posh British accents pretending they are speaking Russian, it's not a bad way to spend an afternoon. Part 1 is very slow. This is where the script could have used a little bit more ooph. Paul Dano's performance as Pierre Bezukhov, however, carries the weight of the production, and keeps up the interest into Part 2. Part 2 picks up a bit more steam, with Part 3 really getting into the meat of the story. We all know Bezukov is Tolstoy's Mary Sue, so perhaps it isn't surprising that he comes through as the most interesting character in the series. As for Dano, give the man a Golden Globe already. As far as BBC adaptations go, I personally preferred their recent adaptation of Poldark, but I am planning to watch War and Peace like it's my job. And I will knit. I WILL KNIT FOR MOTHER RUSSIA. 

BBC Wales certainly brought out their heavy hitters. British go-to novel adaptation screenwriter Andrew Davies has created a pretty faithful script.  The production values are no less what one would expect from one of BBC’s famous big-budget costume dramas. The cast list reads like a Who’s Who of respected or trendy British (and a few American) actors: Paul Dano of Little Miss Sunshine stars at the bespectacled and well-meaning Pierre Bezukhov; Lily James of Downton Abbey is Natasha Rostova; James Norton (Grantchester) is Andrei Bolkonsky; Jim Broadbent (Iris, Vanity Fair) is Prince Nikokai Bolkonsky; Aisling Loftus (Mr. Selfridge) is Sonya Rostova; Gillian Anderson (FUCKING DANA SCULLY) is Anna Pavlovna Scherer; and Greta Scacci (Emma, Daniel Deronda) is Countess Natalia Rostova. 

Aside from the enormous budget and glittering cast, the movie itself is a respectful treatment of Tolstoy’s epic. Russian culture -- from traditional chant overlaid on the battle scenes to Orthodox weddings and baptism -- is treated as a natural part of the film’s backdrop and storyline, so not a whole lot of Otherizing going on. Although, somebody on the production team told the "Austrians" to sport poorly executed accents. That was a bad call. They sound like Nazis.

War & Peace was shot on location in Latvia, Lithuania, and Russia in such locations as Catherine Palace, The State Hermitage Museum, The Russian Museum, the Yusopov Palace, and was funded in part by the Lithuanian Tax Incentive for Film Production, and features the musical talents of the State Choir of Latvia.

If you are looking for something in a similar vein, I recommend heading over to YouTube and checking out Rossiya 1’s Ekaterina (with English subtitles), a 12-part miniseries which depicts Catherine II’s early years in Russia. It definitely gives Beeb productions a run for its money, and as Rossiya 1 = BBC, the diction and intonation of the actors is quite clear and easy for Russian language learners to understand.

War & Peace is airing stateside on the History Channel, A&E, and Lifetime (really). It’s also available via streaming on Amazon video.

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