This Lavish Period Drama Is the Perfect Balm for Anyone Missing ‘Downton Abbey’
Tolstoy's epic gets a memorable adaptation in this BBC-backed War & Peace miniseries.
What could be better than two hours of a beautifully crafted period drama? Six and a half hours. That’s what you’ll find in War & Peace, a recent miniseries adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel of the same name.
The program was first broadcast by the BBC in 2016. It’s composed of six hour-long episodes following the lives of Russian aristocrats in and around the year 1812, during which the French leader Napoleon and his troops threaten to invade the country. The characters’ lives are thrown into uncertainty and disarray as they attempt to navigate love, scandal, war, and betrayals abounding.
The novel is epic in scope and massive in page count, but the series manages to weave the characters and their stories together in cohesive and compelling ways. The production design is stunning, with lavish costumes, sets, and locations (the miniseries was filmed on location in Russia, Latvia, and Lithuania) that will transport you. It’s directed by Tom Harper (Peaky Blinders, Wild Rose) from a screenplay by Andrew Davies, who also adapted Pride and Prejudice for the 1995 miniseries, as well as Middlemarch (1994) and Vanity Fair (1998).
While the list of characters found in Tolstoy’s book is mind-boggling long, the series keeps the characters and their plots concise and easy to follow—perfect for viewers who haven’t yet read the novel. There’s Pierre Bezukhov—played by Paul Dano (There Will be Blood, Love and Mercy)—who inherits a fortune, scours the country for meaning, and is trapped in a loveless marriage. James Norton (Grantchester, Belle) is Andrei Bolkonsky, a devoted soldier and distant fiancé to Natasha Rostova—played by Lily James (Cinderella, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society)—who encounters social, ethical, and romantic struggles amid the tumultuous landscape of war.
The series also features Jessie Buckley (The Woman in White, Taboo), Jim Broadbent (Gangs of New York, The Young Victoria), Callum Turner (Victor Frankenstein, Green Room), Aisling Loftus (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Mr. Selfridge), Greta Scacchi (The Falling, Brideshead Revisited), Tuppence Middleton (The Imitation Game, The Current War), Steven Rea (V for Vendetta, Breakfast on Pluto), and Gillian Anderson (The X-Files, The Fall).
You can find War and Peace on Amazon and Hulu. (If you’re in the market for an epic undertaking for your reading list, be sure to pick up the book as well.) For more literary classics-turned-miniseries, check out the upcoming PBS Masterpiece adaptation of Les Misérables, which is out soon.
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What are your go-to television series these days? Will you tune in to War & Peace, or are you holding out for the premiere of the Downton Abbey film?