Judge Jason Panella is a fighter not a lover.
Passion, secrets, and betrayal.
Leo Tolstoy's epic novel War & Peace is considered one of the most important works in world literature—a natural fit, then, for a bunch of screen adaptations. So why not one more, especially since some of the better-regarded adaptations have been collecting dust for decades? The 2007 version of War & Peace, a four-episode miniseries produced by a pan-European team, captures the relational heart of Tolsoy's story while significantly truncating other elements.
War & Peace is set during Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion of Russia during the early part of the 19th century. The miniseries follows a number of characters through the turmoil, but mainly sticks to three core characters: Natasha (Clémence Poésy, In Bruges), an optimistic countess with romantic soul; Pierre (Alexander Beyer, Good Bye Lenin!), the philosophical, French-educated illegitimate son of a nobleman; and Prince Andrej Bolkonsky (Alessio Boni, The TouristWar & Peace still clocks in at around seven hours and has some insanely dense plotting.
This abbreviation may put off some people, especially Tolstoy purists. Characters are trimmed from the plot, and Tolstoy's elaboration on all things military, theology and philosophy are all but absent. There are still plenty of reflective moments, but the bulk of the miniseries revolves around the handful of key characters' trials and tribulations. The core of his story remains, and it's as solid as ever. War & Peace is a great story, and director Robert Dornhelm keeps things moving forward. The miniseries looks great, too—it helps that the $70 million production was mostly shot in Russia. The authenticity comes out especially well during the story's numerous balls and lavish formal engagements.
The cast—who don't entirely match Tolstoy's physical descriptions of the characters—were still well-chosen. The leads, in particular, do a great job of conveying internal turmoil without a word. Natasha experiences so many ups and downs over the course of the story, and Poésy nails it just through her mannerisms. It's really impressive. The supporting cast is quite strong. Some stand-outs include scene-stealing Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) as Prince Andrej's father, and Ken Duken (Inglourious Basterds) as a mustache-twirling scuzzbag. The cast—drawn from a dozen or so European countries—speaks English, but for some reason a number of the actors were clearly dubbed over. Since the actors were actually speaking English to begin with, most of the dubbing matches up. In a few cases, though, it's incredibly distracting—Scali Delpeyrat, the Italian actor who plays Napoleon, is almost impossible to watch.
Acorn Media's four episode, two-disc set for War & Peace delivers…at least for picture and sound. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is excellent, as far as standard def goes. The English Dolby Digital surround track also sounds great, especially when Jan A.P. Kaczmarek's (The Visitor) impossibly haunting score kicks. There might as well not be any extras, though. Acorn includes "War & Peace by the Numbers," a two-screen slideshow that looks at some of the statistics for the miniseries. That's it.
A sweeping "not guilty."
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
Review content copyright © 2013 Jason Panella; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.