|Natasha and Andrei at the Ball|
Sweeping scope, however, is only the second biggest thing that Tolstoy was offering. He was also concerned with the psychology of his principal characters, and your screenwriter, director and production staff have to do something about that: principally, one hopes, by not making a nonsense of the casting. If they can get that aspect right, the screen can be filled with closeup scenes that will be better than you can imagine.
Tolstoy’s gift is to draw upon what’s already in your head. But in your head there might be no Pierre Bezhukov except the dolt you see in the mirror, and over him you will always cast a gloss, usually by imagining you are really the broodingly taciturn Andrei Bolkonsky. On the page, Tolstoy’s limitation is you. On screen, the writer and director can get you into less restricted territory.
After Pierre (played in the BBC adaptation by the American actor Paul Dano, with a faultless mastery of the whole range of dithering) came into his gigantic inheritance and set off to inspect his holdings with a view to spreading justice and thereby improving the world, there was one little scene that perfectly sums up his character. Noticing a woodpile stacked against a hut, and two or three bits of wood still lying around the chopping block, Pierre picks up the two or three bits and adds them to the pile. Then he dusts his hands and lies down, plainly to dream about the sanctity of honest labour.
In half a minute you have had it proved to you that Pierre’s ineffectual sensitivity will always sabotage his ideals. From both the adapter, Andrew Davies, and the director, Tom Harper, this is sterling work: I marvelled at it, and forgave Davies his earlier, almost fatal boldness in making Pierre’s bad choice of wife, Hélène (Tuppence Middleton), a livelier character than Natasha (Lily James). Besides, Natasha revved up nicely in the later stages, and I quite saw how her impatience to get her sex life started might have impelled her to seek initiation elsewhere when Andrei (James Norton) so strangely obeyed his mad father and put off the marriage for a year. (Read more.)
|Count Rostov entertains|
|At Home with the Rostovs|
|Natasha does penance|
|Pierre marries Hélène|