War and Peace Adaptation: What is it good for- absolutely nothing!

war and peace tv

Last year two exciting things happened: 1) the BBC made an adaptation of War and Peace and 2) I decided to finally bite the bullet and read the book so that I could watch it. HOWEVER when I finally got to the end of that mammoth, wonderful tome, I checked out the trailer annnnd no longer felt like watching the TV version. It just didn’t seem like it would do the book justice, so I decided to hold off from watching it until that stunning work by Tolstoy had faded from my memory (well, at least a little). Naturally, when I saw it pop up on my Netflix a year later I thought “why not…?” Well it transpires there were plenty of reasons “why not”- cos as you may have guessed from my title I wasn’t too impressed with this lacklustre mimicry of Tolstoy’s genius.

Let’s start with the most obvious issue: the disappointing characterisation. Now, in the book I simply adored Tolstoy’s complex cast- rooting for the characters, loving them, watching them grow was my favourite part of the story by far. It was so so important that they got this right… and yet for too many of them they were either miscast or mischaracterised- here’s just the ones I noticed:

war and peace characters

  • Pierre– oh gawd, you know it’s gonna be bad when the main character is completely misunderstood from the source material. This was the most glaring mistake by far. Instead of all the nuance of him being a decent person with his head in the clouds, here we get a bumbling fool, whose main attribute seems to be his glasses-wearing. I swear they spent more time making sure his costume didn’t fit right than directing this guy on how to act, because he has as much stage presence as a damp squid. Plus, instead of just having him fall for the first attractive girl in thrown in his path, they had to force the engagement so that he becomes spineless and daft, instead of a poor judge of character. Oh yes, I know he wasn’t good with the ladies in the book- but that doesn’t mean he was a total idiot or that they had to focus on him being an ugly duckling over everything else. Grrr so peeved about this. Verdict: MISCHARACTERISED
  • Sonya– nothing much to say other than it was straight up bad casting. Verdict: MISCAST
  • Vasily– for some reason they made him wayyy too much of a schemer. For instance, the scene where they tussle over the will is added in. Unfortunately this unnecessary addition didn’t add drama, just silliness. Verdict: MISCHARACTERISED
  • Vasily’s daughter and son– why did they have to have some incestuous relationship? Note to showrunners everywhere: not every show has to be Game of Thrones! Verdict: MISCHARACTERISED
  • Andrei’s father– so I actually like this actor, but the lines they gave him were too frothy and don’t fit the actor (or the character really). Verdict: MISCHARACTERISED and MISCAST

It’s not all bad though- I will freely admit that I found Boris, Boris’ mother and Nikolai all adequate. And I even had a *ding ding ding we have a winner* moment when I saw Andrei and Natasha Rostova on screen. STILL my satisfaction was short-lived, because they could not help but throw a massive spanner in the works when it came to Natasha. I don’t want to say exactly what it is, because it’s a massive spoiler, but for some reason they decided to slot in some overbearing foreshadowing in episode 1 for something that it takes 1000 pages for the character in the book to feel. So *slow clap* for destroying any promise of actual growth. We wouldn’t want that in a TV show, now would we?

And since I’ve gone the gripey route with this review, I may as well go in for a penny, in for a pound, because I wasn’t too crazy about the setting either. While I found the music spot on, somewhat liked the glossy representation of Russia in the panning out shots, and appreciated the costumes, it never really captured the atmosphere of the book for me and didn’t sit quite right. One part that was especially noticeable was that the only time they used French was when they said batard– sorry but how laughable!! I mean- imagine if the only time Tolstoy used French in the book was to swear! It wasn’t that I wanted them all speaking French at court- but if they did have to include that aspect, they could have had it in the background, or used subtitles (I am in no way advocating anything so pretentious as the way Hollow Crown’s Henry V chose to divert from the play for half an hour in French). Man- I know this is pedantic- but all these little details piled up to irritate me to death!

In the end, the whole thing felt like a slog and I won’t be continuing past episode 1. It’s a real shame, because I loved a couple of the casting choices and usually adore Andrew Davies adaptations. Ah well, maybe next time.

Rating (yes I know I don’t normally do this for TV adaptations but whatever): 2/5 bananas


(Edit: when I first published this post I managed to put 5 bananas at the bottom- which made zero sense considering the review- clearly I was hungry 😉 )

So have you seen this? Have you read the book? Did you like either of them? Let me know in the comments!

39 thoughts on “War and Peace Adaptation: What is it good for- absolutely nothing!

  1. The book scares the bejesus out of me so I think it highly unlikely I’ll ever attempt it. It’s just so big and intimidating.

    I attempted to watch the TV adaptation but was bored within 30 mins and didn’t even make it to the end of episode one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. hehehee I was the same- but it ended up being so so good!!

      Yeah it wasn’t done well- I tried to watch it with my sister, who hadn’t read it, and she didn’t like it either. It’s very boring in the TV show unfortunately :/


  2. Haven’t read “War and Peace ” yet, but it’s been on my list for a while… so stopped myself from reading after the first para, as I’m avoiding spoilers… ! it’s so hard for a TV series to do justice to an excellent book though…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I read War and Peace in college but I didn’t really care for it. So I wasn’t bringing any bias to the TV adaptation; it wasn’t adapting a beloved work for me. I was just bored by most of it. I judge an adaptation “successful” if it stands on it’s own apart from the original work. Meaning, in theory, I could hate the original book and love the adaptation. In this case I didn’t love either.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah that’s a shame :/ But yeah, I’m the same about adaptations to be honest- if I enjoy it, it doesn’t matter how faithful it was to the original. I only ever gripe about it as an adaptation if it’s done badly tbh (which is why for the most part you won’t see me complaining about LOTR as an adaptation for instance, but will definitely see me moan about the Hobbit movies 😉 ) But yeah, I totally get what you mean 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yeah I have NOT read War and Peace and yet I LOVE that you did so you could watch the adaption! I think the producers worried that viewers WOULD NOT be the like of you… 😁😍😉 still I really detest when the lead character of a book is not maintained! I get it with the side characters… sometimes you have to dump some of them for tv and budget purposes but COME ON not the LEAD! Too bad… great review Orangutan! I almost love your disappointment reviews more than your 5 banana reviews ♥️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. hahaha I know right!! YES!!! That was the most infuriating thing of all- especially cos in the book he’s so loveable- and here… he just wasn’t even likeable. It was infuriating!! I hate to be one of those readers that’s like “ugh it’s nothing like the book- but ugh it was nothing like the book!!! YES!! hehehehe thank you so much!! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  5. If I’ve read war and piece, I can’t remember it. The main blonde looks familiar though. I can’t remember where I’ve seen her before. Sucks that the TV version didn’t live up to the book hype. Most TV shows go that route though or start out good and then go in their own direction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ah it’s wonderful and I recommend it (even if it’s scary long 😉 ) And she’s Cinderella (if you’ve seen that) oh and she was in Downton Abbey too. I really like her as an actress, so I had high hopes. Sadly, though she was good in it, the adaptation was just poor. Yes it really was!!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve never even attempted to read the book — ever since I heard it could double as a deadly weapon, I knew I was out. But I did try watching this adaptation, and honestly couldn’t make it more than 2 episodes. It felt like such a cute period drama — which is fine in its own way, but according to all the reviews I’ve ever read of the book, that’s in no way accurate. So I gave it a pass — no regrets.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. hehehehehe I can understand that. I was really intimidated by it for years, but I’m glad I read it in the end. I’m really glad to hear I’m not the only one that didn’t think this was accurate- cos I was beginning to think there was something wrong with the number of times I said “wait- what- this isn’t in the book” or “this is so wrong”. I don’t normally mind if it keeps the characters and spirit of the book- but this just trampled all over that :/ Good choice!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I also wasn’t aware there was an adaptation… and after your review I don’t think I want to even try it out, because I trust your word on in… I did enjoy the book a lot and I feel like I should reread it as it’s been a while…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah yes- I feel like it’s definitely worth just giving the book a reread 😉 (that’s what I should have done 😉 ) And I’ve also heard from other people now that it’s not considered to be a faithful adaptation, so if you’ve read the book I definitely wouldn’t recommend it.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Amazing, phenomenal book!! I had no idea they did an adaptation. LOL Wow, I’m so behind. That is why I need you to review shows for me hahaha. I almost want to watch it, but I would be so angry that they ruined a literary masterpiece that I would scream..not literally. 🙂 That is too bad since it would make a lovely adaptation if done correctly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes it is!! I loved it!! hehehe yes- it was advertised quite a bit over here cos it was on the BBC. I got really excited… but that excitement quickly left when I actually watched it. hahaha I was the annoying person in the room going “that’s not how it was in the book”- I’d have felt bad, but no one else was enjoying it anyway 😉 It is too bad- I’ve heard the really long Russian movie is good though- maybe I’ll watch that one day 😉 Then again, it’s really long and Russian… so maybe I won’t 😉


      1. Lol!! I’m always the annoying one in the room doing that when an adaptation is wrong lol. At least it was so bad your friends didn’t mind 😂 I’ve heard that too but can’t sit through something that long if I don’t know what they’re saying lol 😉🤣

        Liked by 1 person

  9. War and Peace is a tome which is on my TBR, but one I rarely consider picking up. It’s just sooo thick! I’m afraid I’ll dislike it, too. Shame on me, I know. That said, I don’t watch TV, so I haven’t see the adaptation. I dunno… the images you have above don’t appeal to me, sadly. But I guess that’s a good thing in this case!

    Did they deviate from the story at all? That’s my biggest beef with TV adaptations of books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. hehehe I was the exact same about it- though I’m so glad I eventually picked it up I was intimidated by it for years. But it ended up being such a worthwhile and incredible read. Fair enough- hehe yes it wasn’t very faithful to the story.
      Yes they really really did- I haven’t included any book spoilers in this- but somehow they managed to put foreshadowing in (that deliberately isn’t in the book, cos it undermines the character growth) and mischaracterised the protagonist as a buffoon instead of a little naive… not good. And also they tried to add some pointless schemes, drama and incest- I have no idea why!!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. While I haven’t read the book yet, I’m pretty much convinced that the show is not worth my time.. ever… These book adaptations are scary as hell at times. They can really crush a person’s joy in an instant… Especially those who’ve read and loved the book… Great review though! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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