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War and Peace Episode 1 Review – A British Adaptation of Tolstoy’s Masterpiece

War and Peace Episode 1 Review

War and Peace Full Cast
The cast of War and Peace.

The latest adaptation of War and Peace is perhaps just a tad soapy and feels more English than Russian, but it’s still quite a stunning spectacle. War and Peace boasts a fabulous cast and amazing period drama screenwriter Andrew Davies, two ingredients that, at the very least, make this one miniseries to add to your watch list.

Having never read Tolstoy’s classic novel (it’s on my one-day list), I can’t discuss the accuracies of the script or touch on the casting discrepancies between book and film. However, looking at this latest version of War and Peace as its own entity, I can attest that it is well written with a compelling story.

War and Peace and Pierre
Pierre (Paul Dano) and the dying Count.

War and Peace follows the lives of various families during the Russian/Napoleonic conflict of 1805. At the center of it all is Pierre Bezukhov, the illegitimate son of a dying count. Pierre likes Napoleon and his representation of revolution, but he’s an idealist that easily gets caught up in his emotions, partying and drinking more than he should.

After Pierre’s father dies, and much to the distaste of other potential heirs such as Vassily, Pierre inherits everything. Taking advantage of the idealistic and naïve Pierre, Vassily becomes an adviser and pushes his beautiful daughter Helene on him and the two are soon married. While Pierre desires a proper marriage, Helene doesn’t and really only cares about his money.

War and Peace and James Norton
James Norton as Andrei

Meanwhile, one of Pierre’s friends, Andrei Bolkonsky, is having problems of his own. Feeling trapped in a marriage to the lovely and pregnant Lise, he decides to sign up for the War and fight Napoleon. This is a man who clearly doesn’t know what he wants yet, and there’s a sort of melancholy surrounding him. Despite Andrei’s behavior to his wife, there’s still a kind of likability to him with the hope that he can transform into a better man. His sweet relationship with his sister Marya helps this would-be persona.

War and Peace
Natasha, Andrei, and Pierre

In another connecting story to Pierre, the young and romantic Natasha is a close friend to Pierre who he visits while his father is on his deathbed. While unsaid and undeveloped at this point (probably unaware themselves), there’s certainly strong friendship feelings between the two that will likely grow into more down the road. In the meantime, Natasha spends much of her time excited about romance. She sees her brother’s affection for Sonya and looks forward to being in love. As an audience, we have her romances to look forward to. I believe there is going to be a triangle between Pierre, Natasha, and Andrei. Just look at this promising dance picture:

War and Peace Andrei and Natasha
Andrei and Natasha share a romantic dance.

While some viewers may find this period drama slow and confusing in parts (the introductions to Natasha’s family could have been slightly more coherent), War and Peace proves that Andrew Davies has done it yet again. His dialogue rolls off the tongue naturally, bringing us closely into drawing rooms, dances, and political conversations. The characters, although most of the men and some of the women are rather unlikable, feel real and that is always one of the most important accomplishments of a good screenplay.

War and Peace and Gillian Anderson
Gillian Anderson and Stephen Rea

Aside from the writing, the performances are all very good at this point in the story. Paul Dano is remarkable as the lead, bringing an awkwardness to his emotional scenes with ease while Lily James as Natasha is her usual, charming self. Other standouts and familiar faces include Gillian Anderson as the snobbish Anna Pavlovna, James Norton as the conflicted Andrei Bolkonsky, Brian Cox as a General, Stephen Rea as the scheming Prince Vassily, Aisling Loftus (Mr. Selfridge) as Sonya, Jim Broadbent as Andrei’s father and Greta Scacchi as Countess Rostova.

Overall, if you’re looking for another sweeping, romantic period drama to watch on TV rather than your typical, modern fare, War and Peace makes a perfect selection. With beautiful costumes, a dynamic cast, and script, and a gorgeous production design, what’s not to love? I’m just hoping that this version delves even deeper into Tolstoy’s themes about human nature. For now, I’m all in! In the US, you can catch War and Peace Monday nights on Lifetime, the History Channel, or A & E.

Content Note: The series is rated TV-14 and includes some sensuality, innuendo, and war scenes.

What do you think of the latest version of War and Peace? Sound off below…

Photos: BBC, Lifetime, History Channel, and A& E.


Four and a half corset rating

“You had me at hello.”


four heart rating

“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My

feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me

to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

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By on January 19th, 2016

About Autumn Topping

In second grade, Autumn wrote her first story, “The Spinach Monster,” and hasn't stopped writing since. Intrigued by the tales her grandmother told of vampires, witches, and ghosts as a girl, she's always been drawn to the fantastic. Later, Autumn studied English and Creative Writing (continuing her love for classic literature and everything old-fashioned) and graduated with an MA in Children’s Literature and an MS in Library & Information Science from Simmons College. Currently, she co-runs this lovely site and works as a YA Librarian.

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