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:
- 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!