War and Peace of Crap: The BBC Mini-Series 2016


Unknown copyAs someone who’s read Leo Tolstoy’s masterful anti-war novel, War and Peace, several times — the latest only last year — and seen the film version of it, I was really looking forward to watching a mini-series adaptation. I mean, honestly, how can you fit 1500+ pages of a complex literary novel with multiple storylines into a 2-3 hour film? So 6 hours for a mini-series sounded pretty good to me. Though I still wondered who, in the great panoply of characters, was going to get short-shrifted.

As far as I can tell, everyone except the few playing the youngest characters got tossed.

Even then, however, the story made no sense.

Or, as Tom so succinctly put it, “This is War and Peace of Crap.”

No, he hasn’t read the book, and I think he was looking to the mini-series as a way of permanently avoiding ever having to read it.

Unknown-1There seemed to be lots of important people there in the cast, but for the life of me, I couldn’t recall who Anna Pavlova (Gillian Anderson) was in the novel. The mini-series didn’t jog my memory. She was only in a few scenes in e1, which in the USofA is being shown in four 2-hour episodes. Since the original BBC production is only 6 hours, that should have warned me right away that there were going to be 2 hours of commercials.

I just hadn’t realized that 90% of those commercial were going to be aired in the first episode.

Here’s how the conversation at our house went last night.

images copyTom, on seeing Helene, at the opening party: “Hell of a bindi.”

“I believe it’s a tiara.”

“A tiara? What is she? A princess?”

“I’m pretty sure she is.”

“Where’s the king?”

“Russia had a Tsar.”

“And they killed him. So why is she still a princess?”

images-4And of Boris, the illegitimate son of a Count.

Tom: “Why doesn’t Gillian like the kid with the glasses?”

“He likes Napoleon.”

“What’s wrong with Napoleon?”

“This book is about his invasion of Russia during the War.”

“So, why don’t they like him?”

imagesAnd this…

Tom: “Now she likes the kid with the glasses? What happened?”

“He inherited all his father’s money?”

“His father died?”

“Don’t you remember the scene with the two women fighting over the leather folder that one of them stole from under the old man’s pillow? It contained the new will, acknowledging Pierre as his sole heir.”

“So, you’re saying his father died?”

“That’s usually when wills get made public, so, yes, Pierre’s father died. Now all the society people who ignored him before want their daughters to marry him. Especially Helene’s father (Stephen Rea).”

images-1“Does that mean he’s not going to any more drinking and bear-baiting parties?” said Tom. “Or was that some flashback-dream sequence? You know how I hate those dream sequence things.”

“That was the dissolute Pierre. He’s one of the characters that morally improves in the book.”

Tom (snorting): “Fat chance it’ll happen in this thing. Nudge me when this round of commercials is over.”

UnknownTom: “Oh, finally. War. That’s what I’ve been waiting for. Where’s Napoleon?”

“This is from the Russian perspective.”

“Yeah, but where’s Napoleon?”

“I don’t know, but I’m guessing if we see him, he’ll be wearing the tri-corner hat of the French Republic.”

“What are those hats these guys are wearing? Clown hats?”

“I can’t vouch for the historical accuracy of the uniforms…”

“How can they hear anything with their ears covered?”

“Canons are pretty loud.”

“This is the stupidest war I’ve ever seen.”

images-3Tom: “That was a bust. These war scenes look like they were made for a stage. They didn’t have the budget to make it look like a real war?”

Unknown copy 2General Bagration (Brian Cox) onscreen: Advance!

Tom: “Oh, yeah, all three of you.”

images-2Tom: “Oh, look. Somebody died. In a war. What’s he saying about the sky?”

“That it’s blue.”

“Wow. So profound. Is he the one who left his pregnant wife because he was so unhappy in his marriage that he wanted to go to the war and die?”

“I’m not sure…”

“You’ve read the book. Recently, too.”

“I cannot remember how all these characters are related to each other. As I recall, the pregnant wife dies in childbirth, and the husband didn’t really die, though everyone thinks he did…”

“Spoiler Alert!”

“You already told me you weren’t going to watch the rest of this.”

“Don’t you still have to warn people when you’re about to tell them what happens?”

Me: …

Tom: “Wake me when this round of commercials is over. Unless I’m snoring…”

images copy 2Me: “Someone just tweeted that the Anthony Hopkins’ version of Pierre is much better than this one. As is that entire version of War and Peace.

Tom (sitting up straighter): “Anthony Hopkins is in this? Why didn’t you tell me? I love Anthony Hopkins.”

UnknownTom: “The kid with the glasses is marrying the girl with the bindi? I thought she was in bed with someone else.”

“With her brother.”

“Her brother?”

images“That was the guy who suggested she go after Pierre because of all his money and houses and land. Then she said, ‘But you don’t have to sleep with him’.”

“Who’s Pierre?”

“The guy with the glasses.”

“I thought you said Anthony Hopkins was playing him.”

Tom: “Hey, isn’t that the wife of the kid in the glasses?”

“It is.”

“She’s having sex. I told you to wake me up.”

“You were snoring.”

“You’re supposed to wake me up for the good parts. You know that.”

images-3Me: “I just tweeted that it’s official: this version of War and Peace was based on CliffNotes, and not on the book itself.”

“When do we get to see Napoleon?” said Tom.



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6 Responses to War and Peace of Crap: The BBC Mini-Series 2016

  1. Robert

    I read the book 30 years ago and I was expecting much different with this miniseries. Up to this point I am very disappointed, most of the show has been dedicated to personal relationships of the elite in Russia, not much time on the Battle of Borodino, Serf Life, Napoleon, etc. Seems like a long drawn out Soap Opera.

    • Dear Robert,

      Worse than a long drawn-out soap opera, in my opinion, since soap operas usually concentrate on a few storylines at a time, so viewers can keep it all in their minds. This mini-series crammed so much of the least important things from War and Peace into the premiere (and in the US, we got a 2-hour premiere). It looked like it concentrated on Pierre, not because of his moral development in the novel, but because of the sexual misdeeds of his wife.

      And the war…

      In the novel, some of Tolstoy’s most magnificent writing, including sophisticated extended similes and metaphors, appear in the battle scenes. So the “blue sky” line doesn’t seem ludicrous in the book. These “battle” scenes were so poorly done, my partner Tom insulted them.

      And he was only watching War and Peace for the War parts.

      It is, indeed, disappointing.

      And lest people think I’m only complaining because it was an adaptation and not like the book, I haven’t read the book in at least a year, I’ve read it three times, but I couldn’t make sense out of the adaptation itself as a stand-alone drama. Tom, who’s never read the book (he’s intimidated by the mere size of Russian novels), was hoping for a good story of the war between Russia and Napoleon.

      Needless to say, he was disappointed.

  2. JO

    We need to be spared from the scourge of historical epic dramas. Because it seems for every good one, there are a hundred bad ones. Someone stop them. Please.

    I refuse to believe anything Gillian Anderson is in could be as bad as Starz’s Outlander. So this I must see.

    • Dear Jo,
      If you watch the new War and Peace, do not read the book first: it won’t help anyway.
      Don’t expect Gillian to be in too much of it: she’s not.
      Being drunk, stoned, or on pain-pills of some sort might help it make sense, but I doubt it.
      Enjoy. NOT.
      A xxx

  3. Thank you for allowing me to not suffer through this later as I was considering watching it. You are a grand lady indeed for taking this bullet for us. You are a martyr and a thoughtful friend and, apparently, your Tom is very much like my Peter. Lucky us! 🙂

    • I wouldn’t have inflicted this disastrous adaptation on anyone, my Dear. And I think I can honestly say I’ve found an adaptation that is worse than Starz’s Outlander.

      Peter sounds delightful.

      A xxx

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