I thought I’d begin by reviewing a few of the period dramas that have been on so far this year. These reviews are intended for people who, like myself, have watched the series already and are interested to know what other viewers have thought. They therefore contain spoilers and comments are more than welcome.
The first, and by far my favourite, has been the BBC’s War and Peace. I began watching this, really out of a sense of duty to the costume drama world, rather than because I thought it would be my thing. I’ve seen that tome of a book on shelves a number of times, and never once been inclined to read it. I think it’s the word, ‘war’. I was also put off by my 9 month long experience of reading Tolstoy’s other classic, Anna Karenina, a few years ago. This is undeniably a great book, a classic, a work of genius. But I found it hard and arduous to get through, mostly because of the long, philosophical and political musings of Levin, which I just couldn’t be very interested in when what I really wanted to know was, is Anna going to leave her boring husband, and will Levin get with Kitty?
So, with this in mind, I began to watch the first episode of War and Peace, expecting to abandon it mid series. I found the characters rather hard to like at first, and it was difficult to identify or sympathise with any of them. However, by the end of episode two, I was hooked. Natasha and Prince Andrei seemed to provide the standard romantic leads, yet all the while, there was Pierre, who, awkward, self-indulgent and naïve was, nevertheless, somehow beguiling. Paul Dano played him so sensitively and compellingly, that despite the character’s selfish beginnings, I ended up rooting for him all the way.
I could see clear links with the philosophy of Anna Karenina, particularly in Pierre’s burning desire to find a meaning to his life, and his resolve to live in a simple, peasant-style way, as seen at the end of the final episode. And I felt happy for him. What’s more, I felt that Natasha really did love him and hadn’t simply settled for him now that Prince Andrei was no more.
After the rather unique episode that concentrated almost entirely on Natasha’s moral downfall, the rest of the series became more and more serious, culminating in a brutal final episode. It was violent, bleak and saw the demise of several characters. But this was necessary, and not unexpected, given the series’ title. I’d never warmed much to Andrei and certainly not to Helene, but the loss of Adrian Edmondson’s character, Count Ilya Rostov was tragic at the end of the series. This was because I’d really become fond of some the characters and wanted the best for them. I even managed to follow some of the parts about the war too!
The costumes were eye catching, suited the characters well, and were memorable. I questioned the authenticity of one of Gillian Anderson’s gowns, wondering whether the ‘one shoulder style’ was a thing in early 19th Century Russia.
I have not yet had a chance to research this. Princess Marya’s dresses were all suitably modest and sober, and Kitty’s were floaty and feminine. I thought her revealing and nude coloured gown particularly suitable for the episode in which she is seduced by Anatole Kuragin. The men looked great too, with several of them in uniforms. Count Ilya’s clothes were eye-catching, upbeat, and seemed to hark back to the traditional Russian style before Europe started to have an influence on fashion here.
There was something so lavish and indulgent about the whole feel of this drama and I certainly missed it being on last Sunday.
Hope you enjoyed the review,
Pictures are from the BBC website, the Telegraph and the Metro websites.