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The coincidences continue to come thick and fast as Pierre tries to be heroic, Natasha and Andrei are reunited and the villains get their comeuppance. But didn’t it end well?
‘I know I’ve been a clown and wasted my life …’
No! It’s all over! Bring them back! Make Pierre regrow his bonkers prisoner beard! Make Sonya and Denisov get it on at a mazurka party! Bring Helene back to life and let’s see what a terrible mother she would have made! I can’t believe it’s over. But didn’t it end well? Setting aside the ridiculousness of Nikolai’s Duran Duran hair and peasant costume in the final “bucolic idyll at the dacha” bit. Where none of the actors looked a day older than episode one despite the passing of 15 years.
Did they have to race to fit it all in? Da. Was there a lot of messing around with the novel to make that happen? Da. Was it a travesty? Nyet. Screenwriter Andrew Davies, director Tom Harper and the entire cast can hold their heads high as the final, almost-feature-length episode upheld the standards they have established from the outset: classy, sensitive, lavish, memorable.
Best plot point of the last episode? Pierre’s attempts at heroism. “There’s something I have to do. Something terrible. Kill Napoleon.” Oh, Pierre. The only thing you’re good at killing is time, you great lummox. And don’t go into the burning building! Pierre, your destiny is not to assassinate Napoleon. Your destiny is to flail around like a loon, go gaga over Natasha and make profound statements about old men’s dogs.
Once again we had the collision of a gazillion coincidences, which are obviously so much more subtle in the novel (because they’re spread apart by many, many, many pages). Of all the millions of residents in Moscow, who’s this Natasha spots from her carriage in a split second? Why, it’s Pierre! Out of tens of thousands of soldiers, which French regiment does Dolokhov happen to attack? Why, the one holding Pierre prisoner! And in a country spanning an eighth of the world’s land mass and 6.5m square miles, to whose rural retreat is Prince Andrei conveyed? Why, Natasha’s, of course!
To mention all this, though, is rather like picking vshy (nits) out of Pierre’s prisoner beard. Because without these novelistic “moments of fate”, there would be no War and Peace at all. No matter, then. This was great television. The Frenchman who misguidedly recognised in Pierre a fellow Lover of Many Women. Helene with her blood-soaked gown. Ade Edmondson as Ilya, regal and hopeless in his coffin.
The message? Beautifully conveyed via Pierre via the man with the dog. “He never worried. He took pleasure in the good things and endured the bad things cheerfully. So now I’m trying to live like him. Is that ridiculous?” No, Pierre. Not at all. (What is ridiculous, my friend, is walking around the Battle of Borodino saying, “Excuse me, do you require any assistance? Please don’t let me get in your way.”)
Those all-important Mr Darcy moments
No, Andrei, don’t die! We had a little weep at the flashback scenes in our house. (OK, OK, it was just me.) Prince Andrei has been a complicated hero but he has been the hero nonetheless. “Is it really you …? Natasha, I love you. I was in the wrong.” He then talked about how much he loved a buzzing bluebottle. This was not so impressive to Natasha. “Don’t talk too much. You’ll tire yourself.” These were poignant scenes between Lily James and James Norton, both of whom managed to bring an added maturity and depth to their characters when it counted.
Runner-up heroes? Dolokhov and Denisov to the rescue! This was the most crowd-pleasing moment of all, especially Dolokhov’s crazily arrogant, ultra-proficient Eddie Izzard-style French-speaking: “Bonne chance et bonne nuit!” I was just waiting for him to say: “Le singe est sur la branche.” Dommage. Next time.
Villain of the week
Well, Helene got her comeuppance, didn’t she? “You must leave now, Countess. You never should have come.” Cue the most deep-throated Orthodox church singing you’ve ever heard and Helene drinking the poisonous Italian abortion medicine by candlelight. Not sure how she managed to not get pregnant until now with all her comings and goings, but never mind. (Tolstoy calls this, by the way, “a treatment to remove inconvenience”. What a mean way to talk about Helene.)
I also want to mention Mademoiselle Bourienne on Villains’ Row because I feel she has been secretly, quietly evil all along. Although she did manage to leave the room at the exactly right moment in tonight’s episode. But what’s this? Here’s Prince Vassily! “She’s dead. My lovely girl.” Still wheedling, still vile, if a little more sympathetically beardy. Ah well, all the villains were punished in the end and rightly so.
Audrey Hepburn award for most beautiful lady acting
Sonya was at her fatalistic best tonight. Her face when she was writing the letter releasing Nikolai! Does anyone have a more miserable fate in this bloody book than poor Sonya? Even the people who die get heroic or tragic endings. Sonya just has to go on being the poor relation, pitied by all, with everyone knowing she loved Nikolai but can’t have him. “How can you be so self-sacrificing?” “Oh, because I’m used to it.” If this was Jane Austen she would have got Colonel Brandon, sorry, Denisov, as a consolation prize.
The overall award for most beautiful lady acting? I’m tempted to give it to Lily James, because she did a good job tonight. “No one will want me after my disgrace … I do wonder what happened to Pierre … Do you think we’ll ever see him again?” (Er … spoiler alert, Natasha! It’s the point of the whole book!) But Princess Marya (Jessie Buckley) has knocked them all into a cocked Napoleonic tricorne. Hasn’t she come a long way since the Oliver!-themed BBC talent show I’d Do Anything?
Russian pedant’s corner
The pronunciation of names was unusually troubling tonight. What’s with “Princess Bolkonsky”? It should be Bolkonskaya for a woman. A lot of the transliteration has been inconsistent. And Karataev’s dog Sashenka should be pronounced with the accent on the first syllable. (Izvinite – excuse me – but this isn’t called Russian pedant’s corner for nothing.)
The Russian pedant was, however, thrilled to see the Rostov family sitting down for ages before their journey away from Moscow. According to Russian tradition, it’s bad luck to return for something you’ve left behind. So you have to sit still for a while before you leave, pray for good luck and try to remember what that thing might be. It’s highly recommended as a custom if, like me, you are prone to forgetting things on your way out of the house. Give it a go, comrades! If you’re not too busy weeping that it’s finally all over. Personally, I’m not planning to leave the house for weeks. I may grow a bonkers Pierre prisoner beard.