First Look Review – War And Peace Mini-series

First Look Review – War And Peace Mini-series

Reading books that are over a thousand pages is not something many people find fun to do. We’re always grateful when a kind and financially capable studio, takes up the tedious task of turning the book into a movie. Which is what the BBC and American film studio the Weinstein Company did, with their adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel, War and Peace; which comes to television this month.

First airing in the UK on BBC One beginning January 3rd, the mini-series will then air in the US via a simulcast on the A&E channels, Lifetime, A&E and HISTORY; starting January 18th.

BBC War and Peace Review

Lily James as Natasha Rostova in War and Peace on A&E – Photo by BBC/Laurie Sparham Copyright 2016

During our first look at the huge project from screenwriter Andrew Davies and director Tom Harper, we were quite impressed. After being told the actual book had over twelve hundred pages, one has to consider the job of condensing that into something today’s viewers will both stick with to the end and enjoy, daunting.

I’ve learned throughout the years that the English do things a bit different, than our friends in Hollywood do here in the US. Building the story is a common trait among British films and TV series, which can at times become a bit dull for those who are used to getting to the good parts quick. That said, once you’ve hung in there for the groundwork to be laid, you find that this type of a cinematic journey can be very rewarding. Plus, I usually feel smarter after watching something from across the pond.

Over the past several years, British films and television series have topped my list of favorites. Which is why I’ve looked forward, to the coming of War And Peace. Plus, the fact is, I would have never gotten through that book.

War and Peace Cast

Cast of War And Peace – L to R: Tom Burke, Callum Turner, Gillian Anderson, Stephen Rea, Tuppence Middleton, Paul Dano, Lily James, James Norton, Jack Lowden, Aisling Loftus, Jessie Buckley Jim Broadbent, Adrian Edmondson, Greta Scacchi – Photo by Mitch Jenkins Copyright 2016

Going into to the preview my focus went like this – Lily James, Paul Dano and “oh, I know that actor from somewhere”. It didn’t take long into the opening to alter that approach. By the end of our preview it went, Paul Dano, Tuppence Middleton, Stephen Rae, Tom Burke and Lily James. Without being a Debbie Downer on the Lily James fan boat leading up to the War and Peace debut, my initial thoughts were that maybe it was to soon; you know, from having just been Cinderella.

Paul Dano is of course the star of the show, and not just because his character is in the book. The multi-nominated, award winning actor, owns his character Pierre Bezukhov in the series opener. As the 31 year old actor has done in most of the films in which he has starred, he captivates. Dano’s ownership of his role goes beyond a mere comfortableness with his lines and look. You believe he’s there, even in his thoughts.

Being believable is what makes series like these work. Which is why the use of actors not yet known by the masses can be the best move by a studio. The work of convincing is much easier – which is really our only issue with Lily James. We love her, but getting both Lady Rose and Cinderella out of the way to really get her as Natasha Rostova, was a bit of a struggle.

War and Peace TV SHow

Paul Dano as Pierre Bezukhov – Photo by BBC/Laurie Sparham Copyright 2016aul

This is where Tuppence Middleton, Stephan Rae and Tom Burke earned high marks for us during our preview. Middleton is so good at being bad, that you can’t help but wait for the next scene for her to appear in. Irish actor Stephen Rae delivers a strong performance as Prince Vassily Kuragin and Tom Burke became a new favorite as the drunken and devilish Fedor Dolokhov.

As far as the rest of the ensemble, everyone is playing along nicely. The cinematography is stunning, especially indoors and the battle scenes are way above par for television.

The writing by Andrew Davies makes sure that there is enough sex and timeless drama to appeal to today’s viewers, especially the young adult audience. A prior knowledge of the book is not really needed and having been in the crowd of those who wait for the movies to arrive, it may just get in the way anyhow.

James Norton War and Peace

James Norton stars in the new four-part miniseries War and Peace – Photo BBC/Laurie Sparham Copyright 2016

It’s a long haul for sure, with six parts in the Uk and four for US viewers, but we think you’ll be ready for more after just part one. If you like a well done period drama that isn’t to stuffy, you should enjoy watching the BBC and Weinstein Company’s, War And Peace.

Visit Official US SiteLifetime (to watch the trailer).

Premieres Monday, January 18, 2016 at 9/8c on Lifetime, A&E and HISTORY.

Photo: Top – Photo by Mitch Jenkins Copyright 2016


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Wayne Andres

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