BLOG Nathan Llywelyn Munday

NWR Issue 110

War and Peace Finale

When you hear the bass notes of a Russian Orthodox choir, you know that another episode of BBC Wales’ War and Peace (2016) is about to begin. On Monday (1 February), Cardiff welcomed screenwriter Andrew Davies along with director Tom Harper and actors Adrian Edmondson (Count Ilya Rostov), James Norton (Andrei), Aneurin Barnard (Boris Drubetskoy) and Thomas Arnold (Vassily Denisov) to BAFTA Wales’ screening of Episode, 6, the finale. The event was hosted by Jason Mohammad.

Mohammad suggested that the new ‘Russia-craze’ will dominate our imaginations whilst the catwalks will be stormed by hussar-like coats, women in big fur hats and dressing-gown frocks (The War and Peace website already features, Get the War and Peace look). I felt like telling him: ‘Russia is already capturing our imaginations!’ BBC has given us programmes on Putin, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich and the Romanovs whilst Monsoon has provided my sister with a Natasha-esque coat which she wears every day around Cardiff. Perhaps the W&P ‘look’ might even include the cavalryman moustache to usurp the beard-growing trend!

If you’ve enjoyed the mazurkas as well as Napoleon tugging Boris’ ear, I can assure you that the final episode combines all the big themes that Tolstoy’s epic has already thrown at us. Episode Five, broadcast on Sunday, was big. A Russian burning down his own home; Pierre (Paul Dano) being thrown into the air by a cannon blast which could be felt in our living rooms; Dolokhov (Tom Burke) apologising and the incestuous rogue, Anatole (Callum Turner), becoming a Long John Silver lookalike.

In Episode 6, the French army is now advancing towards Moscow and we are invited to join the families as the War approaches the Peace in a fitting finale for what Davies calls ‘a universal story’.

The Q&A in Cardiff started as the credits rolled away. We were told about military training, favourite scenes, dancing instructors and the beautiful European palaces which Lily James compared to Heaven. Edmondson said that the families (Rostovs, Bolkonskys et al) became very close on set whilst Aneurin Barnard was a bit disappointed that he never really experienced the ‘War’ sections with their cannons and cavalry charges. It’s very strange seeing the actors in real life. When you read the book, you become one of them; you fall in love with Natasha, you drink with Dolokhov or you whisper at Anna Pavlovna’s soirées. It was similar with the series. Tolstoy invited us in; Davies managed it too. It’s a shock, then, when you suddenly hear Boris Drubetskoy speak in a Welsh accent!

Imperial Russia will soon move on to a more familiar France. Davies is working on a new adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. He told us last night that ‘We are hoping to do Les Mis, but not a musical, no singing. That book is a huge great thing.’

He also promised a drama on Nye Bevan and the beginnings of the NHS. Maybe, in future, Davies might adapt Tolstoy’s other ‘huge, great thing’, Anna Karenina, for television? I hope he does because I did not enjoy the recent film (2012).

War and Peace is a Welsh production and Davies praised BBC Wales and how it was no longer ‘dozy’ thanks to individuals like Julie Gardener (former Doctor Who executive producer) and Faith Penhale (former Head of Drama at BBC Wales) whom he called ‘visionaries’. The whole panel believed that more costume dramas would be made and that the age of television is, by no means, over.

Russia has certainly entered our imaginations. We are bypassing the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy era and imagining onion-like churches backed by cold winters. Perhaps Putin is a new kind of Tsar and the babushkas are still seen on the streets, but other than that, we have fallen in love with a Russia that does not really exist. This tells us that War and Peace is about much more than Russia. Its themes and characters belong to all of us. The characters are a part of us and that is why we want to look like them.

Nathan Llywelyn Munday is a PhD candidate at Cardiff University and a blogger-in-residence at New Welsh Review.

Pictured in Cardiff, L-R: Andrew Davies, Callum Turner, Aneurin Barnard & Thomas Arnold

War and Peace, episode 6, the finale, is broadcast this Sunday, 7 February at 9pm, while previous episodes are available on iPlayer. It is produced by BBC Wales, written by Andrew Davies, stars Paul Dano, Lily James and James Norton, and is directed by Tom Harper. Its producer is Julia Stannard.


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