Time for our first costume drama of 2016, and the BBC has gone with a work that practically defines epic: War and Peace. This is the second time the BBC has shown Tolstoy’s masterpiece some adaptation love (the first time was in the early 70’s, with Anthony Hopkins playing Pierre). The first outing ran 17 hours and was a pretty slavish adaptation, from what I understand. This is a much leaner version that will undoubtedly trim quite a few minor characters and subplots. Let’s just see how it goes.
It’s 1805 and Napoleon has invaded Austria. Russia’s thrown in with Austria, which means war for Russia as well.
We open on a massive army encampment overlooked by, presumably, Napoleon himself before moving to St Petersburg, which looks really lovely.
Time for a ball! Drink! An awkward young man, Pierre, arrives and grabs a drink while the hostess, Anna Pavlovna (played by Gillian Anderson, whom the BBC just adores) chats about this impending war with another guest, Prince Vassily Kuragin, who reassures her their glorious emperor has things well in hand. Anna notices Pierre and we learn that Pierre’s the illegitimate son of a wealthy count who is also a kinsman of Kuragin’s. Pierre is staying in Kuragin’s home. We get a brief glimpse of Vassily’s two children, Helene and Anatol, who are clearly too cool for school here. Also, Helene’s costuming is so anachronistic it’s kind of distracting. She looks like she was dressed by a fashion designer from the 30’s who was taking some cues from the early 19th century but essentially hewing to art deco ideals.