War & Peace (2016) – Beautiful BBC TV Adaptation of Classic Novel

March 25, 2016 Rissi JC 18 Comments

War & Peace (2016) BBC Adaptation Review

The only exposure to War & Peace I’ve had is a foreign adaptation with English dubs. When news broke that a British version under Andrew Davies and BBC’s deft hand was in the works, I was ecstatic. Seeing a version actually filmed in English seemed the icing on the cake in what would, ideally, be the perfect adaptation of a classic masterpiece.

1805 sees a fierce battle between the French and Russian continents.  The battles the two countries engage in results in mass casualties, and droves of young men finding commissions. Prince Andrei Bolkonsky (James Norton) is one such man. Though he is titled and has a wife with child, Andrei is anything but satisfied in his life. The social nicety’s his name affords him stifle him as does the lack of affection he feels for his family, including his own wife. In war, he can at least achieve glory and hope to do something good with the remainder of his life. At least that’s what he envisioned… Natasha and Andrei Dance in War and Peace

The Rostov family also sends a son off to war, but not before their friend (and recent heir to his father’s title and fortune), Pierre Bezukhov (Paul Dano) visits the family. A family that includes the happily-married parents Count and Countess Rostov (Adrian Edmondson, Greta Sacchi) of three children; their son Nikolai (Jack Lowden) is eager to join his country’s fight; and their daughter, Natasha (Lily James) is a dreamer who fantasizes about love and the fairy tale of meeting her true love. As the lives of these prominent Russian families intertwine in various directions, some will find their futures are about to collide.  

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War & Peace

Anytime a new period film production is in the works, there is always a risk of it trying to appeal to a secular audience. Such is the case with this magnificent production. Before going further, I’ll address the bad end of this series. I’m saddened that the talents of Andrew Davies (A&E’s Pride and Prejudice) felt the need to waste time on mature content. It’s a pity filmmakers feel for this to enjoy a successful run, the only way to achieve this was through visual implications of the stories moral ambiguity (to put it politely). On the flipside the version I watched (US via iTunes) is much cleaner than I’d read leading me to surmise the UK edition has more graphic content.

They say suffering are misfortunes. When our lives are knocked off course, we imagine everything in them is lost. But it is only the start of something new and good. As long as there is life, there is happiness. – War and Peace

Beyond this, this period drama is magnificent. Fortunately, flaws and all, there is enough episodes that deal in only the “pretty” or emotional pull this kind of story can elicit. As a costume drama, this dazzles brighter than stardust. Just as one would anticipate from a BBC production, every costume is gorgeous. To keep with tradition, there are some ensembles that are obviously modern. Glossy and sophisticated takes over the better part of this lending a kind of unexpected charm balancing out the modernization.

What surprises me most about the miniseries is the “disconnect” between the stories. The 2007 adaptation (I realize comparison isn’t needed), does a superior job of keeping things “small,” and connects everything. This series keeps the all of these characters apart. Or at least this is the primary series of events until the third and fourth episodes (which also enjoy a several year jump in the span of the two episodes). Speaking of episode four, it boasts one of the most beautiful dance scenes ever. Not only is the dreamy nature elegant, I also like that the scene shows the reaction of another character who, later on, factors greatly into the woman’s future.

Lily James in War and Peace

In conclusion, Andrew Davies has another stellar piece of TV mastery on his hands. With its cast of British talent, this does convey a decidedly British atmosphere. Nonetheless I found myself not at all bothered by a Russian classic being less than its setting. Everyone in this cast is amazing; whether it’s James’ charm and Norton’s sophisticated cool or the gentlemanly Dano; plus Aisling Loftus, Tuppence Middleton, and Tom Burke also earn credits. Though dark as it edges towards its conclusion, with its vibrant use of color, wonderful costume design and talented cast, War & Peace is a masterpiece of a production that rewards a viewer’s patience with the prettiest of conclusions and is something I’ll enjoy revisiting time after time.

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War & Peace

(This post does contain affiliate links, which means – at no extra cost to you, I may receive a small commission if you make a purchase through a link. Read the disclosure page for details.) You can rent or buy War and Peace digitally on Amazon Video or purchase on DVD.

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Content: In the final five minutes of episode two, there’s a semi-graphic – clothed, sex scene. Multiple scenes of prostitutes either in bed with men or sitting on their laps during a night of drunken partying; incest suggestions form. A brother and sister are seen “fooling around” under the sheets; barely avoided nudity crops up 2-3 times. There are a 1 or 2 visual innuendos. A woman is seen lying in bed with a blood soaked white gown [episode eight – on iTunes] having committed suicide. Many bloody battles take place over the course of the eight installments; nearly all involve scenes of war violence. The episodes are rated TV14.

About Rissi JC

amateur graphic designer. confirmed bookaholic. bubbl’r enthusiast. critical thinker. miswesterner. social media coordinator. writer.

Rissi JC

amateur graphic designer. confirmed bookaholic. bubbl’r enthusiast. critical thinker. miswesterner. social media coordinator. writer.

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  • Carlyn Brody March 25, 2016 at 7:33 PM

    I've been meaning to read the book and the movie of War and Peace. I'll get around to watching the movie first as I know the novel is huge. I also become a little dissapointed when sex scenes are added into period dramas purely to attract an audience. It's a cheap trick.

    • Rissi March 29, 2016 at 4:29 PM

      I applaud you, Carlyn. I'm too lazy to even THINK about attempting the book. ;)

      Since I've not read the novel, perhaps the content is complimentary to the novel, I don't now. But I'd assume more often than not, writer's add the content to appeal to the modern audiences quest for "sexy" TV. As you say, it's not cool. But I did find the good outweighed the bad, so in the end, I had no choice but to love this one! :)

  • Ivy Miranda March 25, 2016 at 8:34 PM

    I watched the first episode and was really intrigued, but I haven't been able to see the other three segments. My mom said it was wonderful and she loved the ending! And it has Lily James in it and she's very quickly becoming a favorite : )

    • Rissi March 29, 2016 at 4:30 PM

      Lily James is an amazing actress, Ivy and she makes Tasha a likeable character who goes through many a great change and maturity as the series progresses. I hope if you liked episode 1, you can revisit this one. It's worth it in the end. Thanks so much for visiting! :)

  • Bekah M. March 25, 2016 at 9:21 PM

    Great review! I only saw half of the first episode, but I have to come back to this soon because Lily James and James Norton!! Can't wait to see the dance scene you mentioned. :)

    • Rissi March 29, 2016 at 4:32 PM

      Right!? Lily and James are reason enough to watch this! I loved them both in these roles, Lily in particular turns in a lovely performance as a heroine with a great maturity story. Hope you enjoy it if you do revisit it, Bekah. :)

  • Anonymous March 26, 2016 at 8:20 PM

    I will rather stick to the classic movie "War and Peace" of 1956. It also boasts with a great cast: Audrey Hepburn as Natasha Rostova, Henry Fonda as Pierre Bezukhov, Mel Ferrer as Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, and Jeremy Brett as Nikolai Rostov!

    >>> Vintage Princess <<<

    • Rissi March 29, 2016 at 4:33 PM

      Ooo, yay for Audrey Hepburn! Don't know about her personal life, but in her film career, she's always a class act. :) Thanks so much for visiting.

  • Anonymous March 27, 2016 at 3:58 AM

    Yay, it’s up! Great review Rissi; I couldn’t agree more about your opinion on the costumes, and your observation on the fact that there is a bit of disconnect between the characters and their journeys, which aren’t tied together as smoothly as they could have been.

    Now to let the fan-girling begin! ;) To be honest, I was quite apprehensive when I found out Paul Dano was playing Pierre, as he is someone I personally do not find attractive in the slightest, but he surprised me by managing to pull out a pretty great interpretation. James Norton, on the other hand, I was ecstatic to learn would play Andrei, my favorite male character, and he did not disappoint at all. I especially loved his relationship with Marya, who is one of the most underappreciated characters in this story I think. Speaking of which, and here comes a spoiler, although Natasha and Andrei's romance is wonderful, I have actually always been a tad more excited about watching the one between Marya and Nikolai play out. I don't know how much of that has to do with my weakness for secondary character's love stories, but I found them adorable, and was so happy that Marya finally found love.

    However, there were numerous times when I also really wished they’d been able to stretch this series into at least one more episode, as there was just too much going on to be able to do proper justice to all of the story-threads in the time they had. For instance, I would have loved more screen time devoted to developing Marya and Nikolai’s relationship, and it might have helped them pace things a bit better.

    God Bless
    Eleanor Rose

    • Rissi March 29, 2016 at 4:39 PM

      I was so excited to finally get this up, Eleanor – and to be honest, I probably didn't nearly match all that I really wanted to say!

      Like you, I wasn't sure I'd like Paul in the role either (when I read about the cast), but he wound up being one of THE best characters and actors in the role. I really liked all three of the main character's stories. They all had a wonderful journey and in some sense, a coming-of-age story I didn't expect. I think that is one of the things that stood out. James Norton is a phenomenal actor! I thought he turned in a fabulous performance as Andrei and of course, he has the good aristocratic looks to match it.

      YES! I didn't talk about Marya much (or at all!?), but her story is one of my favorites too! It was lovely to see her find happiness with Nikolai, and I didn't mind him winning her heart in the end because like everyone else, he'd grown up and changed by the time the end rolls around.

      Well said. I'd have gone for another episode! There was certainly enough material and when something is as beautiful as this was, with all of the talent it brought together, another episode would have fit nicely. :)

      Thanks so much for fan-girling! I loved reading your thoughts. :)

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