A Filmmaker's Review: War and Peace (2016, BBC)
3.5/5 = Somewhat miscast, but still enjoyable for those who have read the book
I first watched this when it initially came on TV some four years' ago and back then, I couldn't put my finger on what was wrong with it, but it was something small and it bothered me. As I had read the book, I was concerned with the casting choices of some of the characters - especially the Rostova's daughter - Natasha. I never imagined her even remotely looking like Lily James, she seemed more classy and mysterious than that in the book and always had something she was hiding in some way or another. I don't think Lily James pulled that off, her acting was a little shallow. This is most of the reason that the show loses one and a half marks - but on with the rest of the review.
When I re-watched the series, it was on Netflix and I got the chance to re-evaluate my notes after some three or four years of keeping them in my diary (yes, we've all heard the stories about my diaries...) But, it also gave me a chance to appreciate some of the finer more well-tuned things about the show that I had so often glossed over before. For example, the acting of James Norton is just incredible - his range is spectacular. From the first moment he is on screen to the point at which his character suffers his last, it is an excellent performance filled with amazing emotion.
Jessie Buckley was also one of my favourites actors with her performance of the character, Marya, being extraordinary. She had such an incredible range of emotion and was exactly how I had always pictured the character in the book. It was like she was really made for the part of Marya - being the deeply religious, overly conscious and incredibly sorrowful character, it is a difficult part to play. But, the performance and the execution of it was amazing and I think it is one of my favourite performances of the entire show.
Another one of my favourite performances was by the promiscuous and somewhat evil Helene Kuragina, portrayed by Tuppence Middleton. I thought the performance gave a great insight into the character and the many sides to Helene that come through in the book. The first being that she was a woman of stature, the second that she often made bad choices and the third is when those choices come back to haunt her. They are somewhat all completely different and are each very difficult to play.
The stories were each fleshed out very well too. From the way in which Pierre acquires his states and land, to the Rostova family problems concerning their daughter's disgrace - each story was intertwined very well and made for an extremely interesting viewing experience. However, I will say that you will be able to understand the show better if you've read the book, though it does not depend on it - t will be far easier to do so.
Perhaps though, the best thing about this show is that it is one of the only shows based on an epic novel that attempts to cover it in its entirety - or mostly without leaving out key details. For example, in Les Miserables (2012), there is so much left out, but in this show, there is a lot of the main information, themes and symbols in order to show you why you should also read the book because it's great too.
From each and every character there was some sort of something that reminded me of the book and from each and every storyline of every family issue there was a link to yet another thing. Against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars in Russia, there is a constant state of dread, especially when the families have to move when Napoleon takes over parts of Russia. There are unrelenting parts of the show in which there is a great amount of emotion expressed. Such as the part where the Rostova's father dies and his funeral is held. That part is especially sad because of purely the way it is put forward to us. It's dark, it's dreary and it's covered in sadness from every direction - from the broken-hearted Sonya, to the disgraced Natasha to the twist of fortune described by the Rostova mother who knows that the family are poor.
All in all, the show was pretty good, episodes fleshed out a great deal of the story and the characters, mostly, were very interesting however some such as Natasha and possibly Anatole were miscast. I just don't feel like they fit the parts they were playing. However, it was a good re-watch and I enjoyed it mostly.