On Bluray and DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment, TWC and the BBC is the beautifully told story of WAR & PEACE: The Complete Miniseries. Now, read what director Tom Harper has to say about his epic work.
It is 1805 Russia when only the rumors of Napoleon coming to Moscow were on the wind. Pierre (Paul Dano) is the illegitimate son of Count Bezukhov, the richest man in Russia. Prince Kuragin (Stephen Rea) is doing everything possible to make sure that Pierre doesn’t inherit a thing, but the young man has many on his side.
Becoming the new Count Bezukhov takes Pierre from a simple life to extravagance like he has never known. That is when Anna Povlovna Scherer (Gillian Anderson) sets her sites on matchmaking with Helene (Tuppence Middleton). Before Pierre has a time to catch his wealthy breathe, he is married.
Happy for all his success is the Rostova family and his good friend Natasha (Lily James), Nikolai (Jack Lowden), parents Count Rostov (Adrian Edmondson) and Countess Rostova (Greta Scacchi) along with Cousin Sonya (Aisling Loftus).
Also friends of Pierre are the Bolkonsky family including Prince Andrei (James Norton), his sister Princess Marya (Jessie Buckley) and their very loud father Prince Bolkonsky (Jim Broadbent).
Prince Andrei and Nikolai are soldiers who are preparing for what might happen if Napoleon Bonaparte (Mathieu Kassovitz) enters their country. After losing his wife, Prince Andrei begins to have feelings for Natasha but father Prince Bolkonsky wants them to wait a year and Natasha agrees.
Meanwhile Sonya and Nikolai have had an unspoken relationship but he is having trouble making the commitment. His mother the Countess decides its time for her son to help the family financially and wants Nikolai to marry a wealthy woman.
In the meantime Pierre discovers that his wife Helena has been less than faithful yet he looks the other way until he can’t any longer. Having a hard time knowing what to do, he becomes involved in the lives of his friends.
War is on the horizon as Napoleon invades Russia, in the midst of it all relationships are being torn apart, friendships put to the test, loyalties under scrutiny, secrets kept, families in ruin and all in the name of love.
This is the story of life.
That’s where director Tom Harper and story adaptor Andrew Davis come in. They brought together the beautiful tale of a time in Russia so deep and rich that holds every human emotion imaginable.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Tom about WAR & PEACE, his thoughts on making the miniseries, the cast and what he hopes everyone takes away after seeing his work.
Thank you for talking to me today Tom.
Thank you Jeri, it’s a pleasure.
Let’s delve right in because this is truly had to be a huge undertaking for you. What drew you to take this story on?
I fell in love with it really. This is one of the most wonderful stories and the characters are so fantastic and relevant to me. This story occurred over 200 years ago yet it is still relatable and I think the passions and relationships are also relevant I suppose.
Is this a project someone brought to you?
Yes, the BBC came to me with the project. This was a combination of Leo Tolstoy and Andrew Davis as well bringing it all together.
Had you thought about how much this was going to take of your life? This is a miniseries to tell a huge story that has so much detail.
I knew it was a huge undertaking but I didn’t quite realize what I was getting myself into. It was two years of my life and for a lot of that it was incredibly intense. Every waking moment was thinking and working on the show. We were in Russia and Lithuanian and the shoots were sometimes six months long. It was challenging and we went to some extraordinary places and did epic things with battles and balls. It was incredibly challenging and demanding but at the same time rewarding too. We had some wonderful experiences and I was fortunate to work with amazing actors, crew and go across the country. It was a pretty special job and it doesn’t come much better than that I think. It wasn’t without its trials and challenges but ultimately it is why you get into the job in the first place.
One of the things I love are period pieces, you can rise or fall on the set design and costuming. Where you as detail oriented about that?
Yes and no. I had a very clear idea of how it should be and there are very clear ideas in the book. There was such an enormous amount with a cast of 130 people and 230 locations and inevitably you work with great people. When it comes to detailing you call on experts and all their job is is to oversea the making of the military uniforms or embroidery of the dresses. There are great skills coming into play here with brilliant people who had that attention to detail. They were all working to complete the overall vision. The detail is important and brilliant people working on it.
Is it hard to put your trust in so many people when you are working on something this epic?
It’s hard but you have to take a leap of faith. There is no way you can be everywhere all the time. You can’t make something on this scale if you can’t work with people and trust the people you hire to do the work. You can’t be everywhere so my role was to oversea the vision and the tone and the look and detail. There is so much to do so you have to trust.
Can you tell me about working with Paul Dano? Watching him bring Pierre to life was, as always with him, just beautiful.
It was pretty wonderful really. Paul is, I think, one of the finest actors in the world. Actually casting him was a very straight process really. This was a difficult part to cast I think because Pierre doesn’t externally do very much but stuff happens to him and internally he is complicated, thoughtful and complex. That doesn’t manifest in his actions, not until the end really. I needed someone who could show that internal world and be able to lead the whole show. Paul was at the top of my list at the very beginning. He read the script and liked it and it turned out that he studied Russian Literature! I think Paul is an exceptional actor and I think what he brought to the role was extraordinary and he has this ability to transform and tap into the magic of a role. He makes such interesting and surprising choices and he’s always is always telling and fascinating to watch. I think he does an extraordinary job.
Lily James as Natasha, she is so amazing to me. Every role she takes on she gives it a totally different look. She is the light of the series.
I think you are exactly right. She also has a hard job to do because she begins this role as a teenager and terrible things happen to her. She is so innocent, youthful and vivacious and over the course of years she falls in love and the public disgrace and death. Natasha goes on a hell of a ride and a journey for a young actor to go on. She captures all of the emotions and you believe by the end everything the character goes through.
Watching each character start innocent enough and through their life journey is really amazing to watch. With such a large cast and each having their own story to tell it is thrilling to see how you brought out the nuances of the book. This is so epic, get use to that work when talking about this work of yours.
I’m so glad you liked it.
You managed from the get-go to capture and make me want to watch more and more. That’s what I love about what you have created here. When you finally got to sit down and watch the whole thing, what are some of your personal thoughts?
Because I’m so close to it and so wanted it to be good and we had been through so much to make it it was wonderful. It was such a Herculean effort by so many people. You always hope something will be good but because it is so much longer than other work I have done and the stakes were higher, I found it very difficult to be able to assess it in an objective way. I knew I liked it and that some of the performances were fantastic but it was hard to know if I did it justice. I do remember a time when everyone was exhausted and were doing promos with the cast and crew toward the end before the wrap. I thought to myself, ‘it might actually be okay’. So there was a spark of elation that it will all be okay!
I have nothing but praise for you Tom; you brought such emotion along with such beauty and wrapped it up with strength. Thank you very much for that. So, how do you handle a cast this large!
Actually, of all the things that were hard it wasn’t one of them! Mainly because they were so brilliant, professional, talented and a pleasure to be with them. Everyone was a joy to work with. We were working in groups as well. We scheduled it in such a way so that we’d do one group, then the battle, then the ball so every two weeks the cast would change and it was quite nice. It was nice for the cast to get breaks and come back refreshed. That worked pretty nicely.
What would you want anyone watching the series to take away with them after seeing your work?
I hope people come away with a positive outlook toward life and humility despite some of the atrocities we all face. I believe and Tolstoy believed it is the beauty and wonder in life that makes it all possible.
Thank you Tom for talking with me today and congratulations on a marvelous and beautiful – and epic – piece of work with WAR & PEACE, well done sir.
Thank you Jeri, I’m so pleased you liked it, truly.
It was such a pleasure talking to Tom about the epic miniseries of WAR & PEACE that is now on stunning Bluray. The cast, sets, and costuming all brings Leo Tolstoy’s brilliant work of literature to life. This is a miniseries that will make an amazing addition to anyone’s home media library. Pick up WAR & PEACE now!