“War and Peace” is the sort of drama that would elicit many a groan from a younger generation. You are effectively adapting one of the densest novels in the history of literature, and there are some that simply will balk at the prospect. Others will consider it boring mostly because of the source material.
However, Andrew Davies did almost everything that he can to make this into a product that resonated with a larger crowd, simplifying elements of the story in the first part Sunday night and giving you a sense of both names in the title. Was it imperfect? Certainly so. The battles at the end of the first hour were without proper context, and the idea of so many Russians having British accents is a bit jarring and takes getting used to. (Paul Dano as Pierre Bezukhov is inspired casting, and he is carrying the series so far among its younger cast members.)
Where the show probably shines the most right now is on a visual scale, taking advantage of locations that were either deemed too remote by some other productions or too expensive. It feels like Russia in its most romantic of era, and the series plays well into the notion that just a kiss can lead to an engagement. There is a “Downton Abbey” element to how the plot progresses, and that is a good thing. The romanticism helps us to forget that the ages of certain characters are not entirely believable.
If you’re looking for the most faithful adaptation, this may not be it; however, you’re going to have to find someone willing to make a 20-part series for that to really work effectively. What we found here is that Davies has taken some of the more important points of Tolstoy’s story, in particular the onset of the conflict between France and Russia, and built a proper framework around it. While at times confusing and decorated with perhaps too many familiar faces, the intricate work put into the early stages of this show cannot be ignored. Grade: B+.
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