If there is one thing I learned from last night’s opening episode it’s that I know nothing about Russian history.
The “War” in War and Peace references when Russia joined forces with Austria against Napoleon Bonaparte in 1805, and it’s the ever-present backdrop for the aristocrats in our main story. With five different families there’s a lot going on in this first episode as it tries to establish all the major players. For simplicity’s sake I’ll focus on our three main characters:
First is Pierre Bezukhov (Paul Dano), the awkward and naive illegitimate son of a Count who’s just come back to Russia from school abroad. The first episode spends a lot of time with Pierre as he unexpectedly lands into buckets of wealth and becomes a target for vultures and those more savvy than himself.
Pierre is family friends with the Rostov family, whose eldest daughter is Nastasha (Lily James). Natasha doesn’t have much to do in the first episode, as the audience mostly follows her brother Nicolai to Austria. Natasha is young, sweet, and very curious about love (and all the things that go with it). I know we’ll get more of the beautiful Lily James later, but I’m a little bummed because instead we got more of Sulky Pants.
Prince Andrei Bolkonsky a.k.a Sulky Pants (James Norton) is best friends with Pierre. I’ve bestowed the honor of “Sulky Pants” to Andrei because he signs up for the war (and therefore a hasty departure) not for duty or honor, but to escape his wife, Lise. Maybe I’m being harsh. Maybe (probably not). Andrei’s explanation to Pierre is that he is tired of his aristocratic life. Lise ain’t no fool and knows that Sulky Pants doesn’t love her anymore, as is evidenced by him dumping her on his family while he goes off to war. Oh, and did I mention that Lise is pregnant? Ladies and gentlemen, we have a real winner here.
But it gets better: Not only does he abandon his pregnant wife, but he 100% has a deathwish. He volunteers for a battle where the odds aren’t in his favor (“certain death” is more like it). Ugh, I hope Sulky gets some redeeming qualities soon. I can understand getting bored of your life and wanting to make a change, but I don’t think that needs to include abandoning your unborn child.
My major concern with the series thus far is… it doesn’t feel Russian. Now I know at this time ‘being Western’ was a Russian obsession, to the point where aristocats spoke French and were losing bits of their culture. I also understand that BBC’s actors are all English and I’m okay with the English accents (better than a horrid array of bad Russian accents), but it feels more English with a light dusting of Russian culture than the other way around.
Other than that, I’m completely on board for this mini-series. The direction, cinematography and soundtrack are beautiful, and I want to know what happens to the characters, even Mr. Sulky Pants.
In The Margins:
- I do have a warning to my readers: The violence can be graphic, not Glory-level but it made me cringe a couple of times. Also there’s been a lot talk about how the story was ‘sexed up’. I mean… I guess it’s more than your average BBC mini-series. Some mild nudity and one explicit scene. Honestly though, that’s nothing compared to these two:
- See ya next tuesday!!