War and Peace

Rating 8.9
Streamer BBC iPlayer
Seasons 1
Episodes 6 x 60 mins

Lavish“, “sexyandepic“. All words we hope critics will reach for when describing Must TV, and which they also used for the BBCs 2016 adaptation of Tolstoys epic War and Peace featuring James Norton, Lily James and Paul Dano.

It probably goes without saying that this six-part series is much more digestible than the classic 19th century novel, with its 1,225 pages of multi-language shenanigans involving countless characters, all taking it in turns to profess their wisdom on this or that historically significant event. And if, like many of team Must, you’ve tried and failed to trudge your way through Tolstoy’s door stop of a novel, this brilliant BBC production is an ideal alternative, and will take you six hours, rather than 39. And with the thinning out, the story actually becomes more enjoyable, no longer overwhelmed by Tolstoy’s love of moral musings and focusing instead on the good stuff: the war and the peace…by which me mean the thrilling romantics, led by Natasha (James).

And we must say, this is one bloody gorgeous piece of telly – some of that is thanks to the superb and rather dashing cast, who do a fine job of reminding us who’s who and what’s what, whilst roaming around Russia in their period costumes. But the rest is down to the expensive looking production by the BBC, which makes sure to milk these good looking people and places for all they’re worth. Which is a lot, these are aristocrats after all.

But it really isn’t all frilly dresses and clandestine kisses – the battle scenes are brutal and violent, the lingering presence of death felt in each moment. The wonderful script by Andrew Davies does a brilliant job at portraying the emotional complexity from of the source material, never letting us get too comfortable.

Robert Lloyd in the Los Angeles Times agrees that this was a “suitably lavish production, with some beautiful big set pieces and yards and yards of brocade and tuille. The battle scenes, while typically underpopulated, communicate the noise and madness and the ultimately pointless waste of war.” In fact Robert Rorke in the New York Post thought this “one of the most ambitious TV projects since Game of Thrones,” which is quite the statement. But Ben Lawrence in The Telegraph goes one step further, saying: “safe to say that this is the greatest TV costume drama of the past decade and has raised the bar in a genre for which we are already renowned all over the world.”

First shown January 2016. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.

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