War and Peace (2016)
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Tolstoy's masterpiece has been adapted many times for the big and small screen, so how does a new writer manage to add your own twist to a modern adaptation? By trimming out all the character development with secondary characters and adding smut, of course!
Russia is teetering on the brink of war, but the aristocracy have smaller concerns at present. Pierre (Paul Dano) is procrastinating about visiting his dying father's bedside. Once he does, he is made legitimate and inherits a vast fortune... suddenly making him of much interest to the beautiful but cold Helene (Tuppence Middleton). Natasha (Lily James) is celebrating her "name day," and toying with fantasies of love. She is nudging her brother in the direction of their lovely, sweet cousin who loves him dearly... but Nikolai (Jack Lowden) is more interested in going to war. The same desire for glory thrives in the stoic heart of Andre (James Norton), who drops off his pregnant wife with his father and rides out in pursuit of ... something more.
With the war, everything changes. Alliances shift. Friends become strangers. Their lives continue to intertwine and intersect, as a series of tragedies and joys brings them nearer together and allows all of them to find themselves ...
Despite having a good cast (including a much-touted cameo by Gillian Anderson), this miniseries suffers from feeling rushed. Tolstoy's intricate characters and their complicated interactions that allow us to get a sense of their true selves are truncated so much that despite Natasha being the female lead, it does not feel like we spend an extraordinary amount of time getting to know her. There are some lovely moments scattered here and there that do resonate on an emotional level, but overall I felt no real drive to invest in the characters. Part of the problem for me was the writer's delight in "sexing it up" for modern audiences... which includes fleshing out incest, throwing in nudity for titillation purposes, and adding graphic sex scenes "wherever they ought to be."
Part of the problem for me is that my first experience with War and Peace on screen was in an earlier miniseries, which is wonderful. It captures the passion, fire, and naivety of Natasha, the deep emotion and sorrow of Andre, and the desire to please of Pierre, flowing with natural ease through the turbulent events of the war and allowing such figures as Napoleon time to shine. It entertained me, without the need to distract me from the plot with pointless graphic sex scenes. Its costumes are also more historically accurate, its musical score is far superior, and it resonates with more of Tolstoy's truths.
Incest (a man climbs into bed with his naked sister and gropes her under the sheets). A man fantasizes about seeing a woman naked (backside nudity). A married couple grope at one another in bed. Another couple is seen having (adulterous, graphic, clothed) sex on a table. A woman startles a man who has his hand between the legs of a woman. Men frequent prostitutes (shown nude from the side, behind, and topless). A woman is shown completely naked (breast nudity, backside) getting out of bed with her lover. Full frontal nudity on men who are skinny dipping (as well as backside shots).
War scenes are brutal -- gunshot wounds spew blood. Heads and limbs are blown off. A secondary character has his leg sawed off and shown to him.