What I learned from War and Peace. 18 February 2016 Amelia Hockey reflects on the BBC epic

Nearly two weeks after the epic final episode aired and I am still thinking about War and Peace. For six stirring weeks we shared our Sunday evenings with the great and the good of 19th century Russian society, were embroiled in their every drama and mourned their every death (and in the final instalment there were many deaths to mourn). But what did it teach us?

Setting is extremely important

One of the biggest stars of War and Peace was Russia herself (although Latvia and Lithuania sometimes took her place). Director Tom Harper used what nature had provided him to full, astounding effect. Russian winters suddenly became appealing as they sparkled out of our screens and even the horror of war became morbidly beautiful when set amongst the breathtaking battlefields of Austerlitz. But it was not just nature that grabbed our attention. That fateful scene in which Natasha and Andrei waltzed into each other's hearts was made all the more magical by the fact that it was set in the ballroom of the Catherine Palace, candlelit and dripping in gold and mirrored walls. As they swirled around that dance floor, we were swirled up with them. It was visual opulence at its very best.

A handsome leading man can make or break your show

It would be impossible to discuss War and Peace without mentioning James Norton. No sooner had the first episode aired, the show had been renamed Phwoar and Peace thanks to the spectacularly good looking cast, with Norton gaining special attention. As Prince Andrei he was a magnetic presence and must be commended for his performance as a character that, in a lesser actor's hands, could come off as cold and wholly unsympathetic. However, although it's terribly shallow of me to say so, Norton's handsomeness was part of Prince Andrei's charm and I am sure it helped keep the audience on board.  

It is possible to feel really emotional about a potato

A stalwart of the indie movie scene, American actor Paul Dano captured our hearts as the eccentric but good hearted Count Pierre Bezukhov. Poor Pierre had a somewhat difficult journey throughout the series, from having his wife cheat on him with his dear friend Dolokhov (he of the luxuriant hair and moustache), having to duel said friend as a result, becoming a Freemason and attempting to make himself useful during the hellish Battle of Borodino. But Dano's emotional performance was no better than when he was eating a humble roastie. However this potato was not just a boring old spud, it was symbolic of the good, simple things in life, as taught to Pierre by Platon Karataev, who befriended Pierre in the desperate misery of being thrown in prison by the French. The real emotional kicker came as Pierre was restored to his resplendent home and sat down to his dinner. Gazing mournfully down at his potato, which he savoured in tribute to his fallen friend, Dano's understated performance caused, if Twitter is to be believed, a whole nation to start sobbing, a feat for which he must be applauded. Who would have guessed that a potato could be so emotionally devastating?

Sunday evenings will never be the same

Ultimately what I learned from War and Peace was that shows like this do not come along often. Having seen my fair share of costume dramas, this one shone as an example of everything done right, from the glittering costumes to the genuinely upsetting emotional blows that a combination of Tolstoy and Andrew Davies dealt us along the way. It was a whirlwind from start to finish. We can only hope that rumours of a BBC/Davies reunion on Les Miserables will come to fruition soon.

- Amelia Hockey


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