War & Peace
The moving and dramatic episodes of the BBC’s adaptation of ‘War and Peace’ dazzled viewers and critics alike with bloody battle scenes, futile gestures and moments of redemption – although some commentators found the heady mix disorientating.
War and Peace is the “greatest TV costume drama of the past decade”, for Ben Lawrence in the Daily Telegraph. Despite the need to condense so much plot into six and a half hours, Andrew Davies’s script still managed to find room to offer psychological depth to the characters, enhanced by the performances of a talented cast. The BBC interpretation may have drastically altered the denouement of Leo Tolstoy’s doorstopper but who cares, says Christopher Stevens in the Daily Mail. The original ending, with its depressing epilogue, was a “stinker”, whereas the TV finale gave Pierre, Natasha, Nikolai and Marya the happy ending they deserved.
Andrew Davies, the award-winning screenwriter continually takes up the challenge of adopting classic works of literature for television probably always begging for more screen time, which means more production budget to do the Novel justice. He has a great knack of bringing the essence of a classic novel out by knowing what TV viewers want to see on screen. Leaving out anything that does not contribute to the modern medium. It was in Autumn 1972 when the BBC last attempted a TV dramatization of ‘War & Peace’. Then in 20 episodes when a young Anthony Hopkins played Pierre Bezukhov. Thus emphasising the size of task facing Davies.
Asked by the BBC’s Writers room – How did you approach this adaptation? He answered ‘When I’m reading the novel, I’m looking for whose story is it really, who we go on the journey with. In War & Peace, it’s very much Pierre, Andrei and Natasha. I try to make everything a scene with them in it or a scene that relates to them. So that we never lose touch with them and make sure we come back to them regularly. We get on their side and stay there.’
Was the adaptation hard to structure? ‘Not especially. I haven’t felt any need to change ‘War & Peace’. Occasionally I have written one or two things that Tolstoy forgot to write!’ This was picked up by Hannah Furness, in The Daily Telegraph, stating ‘anyone sitting down to the BBC’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic may find themselves a little confused, after writer Andrew Davies added a few extra scenes of his own. Davies confirmed by saying ‘he had invented his own sex scenes, spicing up the love stories with the bits he claims Tolstoy “forgot”. They include an incest storyline in which amoral siblings Anatole and Helene star in their own dark bedroom scene in the very first episode’.
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.