I’ve been thinking maybe I should add a few shorter postings on this blog about costume dramas which I saw a while ago – just getting down a few impressions before they fade too much in my memory. These won’t be full-length reviews, and I may still return to write longer pieces on the productions in question if I watch them again in the future.
One massively long series (I can hardly call it a mini-series) which I re-watched a year or so before starting this blog was the BBC production of War and Peace, starring Anthony Hopkins as Pierre. This was one of the first costume dramas I ever saw, aged 12 when it was first shown, and it made a deep impression on me at the time – I remember being absolutely mesmerised by it and obsessed with the character of Natasha, although Hopkins as Pierre was the performance which stuck in my mind, maybe because he went on to become so famous later.
Watching it again more than 30 years on, I found it still powerful – and was impressed above all by the sheer amount of space and time given for the characters to develop. This also applies to other older series like The Forsyte Saga, which I’m currently watching at a leisurely pace and will blog about soon, The Pallisers, Brideshead Revisited and The Jewel in the Crown. It’s hard to imagine quite so much screen time being given to any literary adaptation now. The magnificent theme tune, the old imperial Russian national anthem, is something I’d remembered from my first viewing.
Despite the huge number of characters, most of the time it was fairly easy to keep track of who was who – director John Davies and screenwriter Jack Pulman did a fine job of interweaving all the storylines. I was slightly dismayed at first by the casting of Morag Hood, who was around 30 at the time of filming and seemed far too old to play Natasha, especially in scenes at the start where she was supposed to be a young teenager. However, I think this is a point where the remastering and my seeing the series in colour have emphasised the miscasting. Watching on a small black and white TV in 1972, I don’t suppose I was so worried by this. In any case, Hood does seem more right for the part later on, when Natasha is older and suffering.
The rest of the casting seems fine, especially Hopkins, and Angela Down – who I remember also giving a moving performance as Jo in a BBC adaptation of Little Women – as Maria . She comes across as a female counterpart of Pierre, both of them deep thinkers but appearing awkward and not regarding themselves as charming or physically attractive. I also liked Alan Dobie as a brooding, disillusioned Prince Andrei.
While reading the book, I often found myself eager to get back from the war scenes to the relative peace of the home front. In the series, however, I thought the war scenes worked well - and the whole production built up magnificently, so that I could hardly bear to reach the end. I did feel that both the book and the series have the same epic quality to them, although I’m sure there must be many shifts of emphasis between the two.
For anyone who wants to know more about this production, there is a full review of it at DVD Talk, including summaries of what happens in each episode.