There is a real event on the television horizon. It is the production of War & Peace that will air simultaneously on Lifetime, A&E and History. It takes a special movie to air on that many channels and War & Peace fills that bill. It is a stunning mini-series adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's classic novel.
The four week series harkens back to the days of Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man in that it has a vast backdrop on which to present its story, a uniformly excellent cast, and locales and costumes that stun the eyes. Once you get caught up in its story you are enthralled and can't wait for the next installment to arrive.
The story focuses primarily on Natasha (Lily James), Andrei (James Norton), Pierre (Paul Dano) and their families. All are among the wealthy elite of Moscow and live a life of luxury. Because of their wealth they are self-centered and unprepared for the hardships of war that are possible due to the aggressive actions of Napoleon. They literally don't take him seriously until he arrives at the edge of the city.
Natasha is a simple woman who loves to dress up and go to balls. She is waiting for the right man to arrive in her life so she can live happily ever after. Andrei is married and he and his wife are expecting their first child. Before the child is born he is called to service in the military and finds he is relieved to be away from his marital obligations.
Pierre is the illegitimate son of a wealthy man. He has been recognized by this man but there is a question as to whether or not he will inherit his father's vast fortune. It is not something Pierre actively seeks. He spends his time with his friends Natasha and Andrei and lets life go where it will.
The first installment of this mini-series is a little slow but that is to be expected as it is used to set up the characters and their back stories. By the second hour the audience will be in sync with director Tom Harper's rhythms and flow, and will be truly captivated by the characters and their stories.
Lily James is a perfect Natasha. She starts off lovely, elegant and sweet, but later shows a more reckless side. James presents more complex facets to this character than she did in her role as Rose on Downton Abbey or as Cinderella. Her performance alone is reason enough to watch this show, but it is not the only one. Dano is even better in his portrayal of Pierre. He gives this man depth and vulnerability. He can appear weak at times but mostly he is the moral core around which all the other characters gravitate.
Norton, Stephen Rea, Jim Broadbent, Gillian Anderson, Callum Turner, Greta Scacchi, Brian Cox and many, many others give able support but James and Dano are the strongest of the cast. This mini-series should go a long way to making them household names.
This presentation of War & Peace is so interesting that you end the final hour wanting more and more. You might even be encouraged to read the book - and that is quite an undertaking. Lifetime, A&E and History deserve a huge round of applause for tackling this project and making it available for our television viewing.
War & Peace premieres Monday, January 18 at 9PM on Lifetime, A&E and History.