USA TODAY – Eight hours might seem enough time for a film presentation of a novel, but we’re talking Leo Tolstoy’s classic, War and Peace.
“I don’t feel like any major plot points are missing,” director Tom Harper told writers Wednesday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour.
He said the A&E Networks miniseries focuses on the main stories, winnowing elements of the book that deal with philosophy and military strategy. “It’s a love story between three characters. … It’s a love story and a search for meaning.”
The four-part miniseries.to be simulcast on A&E, History and Lifetime (Jan. 18, 9 p.m. ET/PT), is set against the backdrop of Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia, focusing on the fortunes of five aristocratic families in the fading days of imperial Russia. James Norton (Grantchester, Rush) plays Andrei Bolkonsky, whose disillusionment about war may be cured by Natasha Rostov (Lily James), who needs to marry to keep her family from financial ruin. Pierre Bezukhov (Paul Dano) has great wealth, but is at the mercy of fortune hunters trying to prey on his naiveté.
Viewers will get to see “amazing” scenes, from battleground to ballroom, but “it’s the intimate emotional moments that make the story quite so wonderful,” Harper said.
Executive producer Harvey Weinstein said a librarian neighbor introduced him to the novel after a youthful injury playing Cowboys & Indians kept him from attending school. “It’s my favorite novel,” he said.
The production is faithful to the novel, Weinstein said. “What I think this series will do is get people to read the book,” said Weinstein, who has had a similar experience with feature film productions.
Dano (Love & Mercy, 12 Years a Slave) finds Tolstoy’s story relevant today.
“The inner life was so rich and true to how we live and feel. That’s how we bring a modern energy to our War and Peace without doing something detrimental” to the book, said Dano, who was given a first edition of the first English-language translation, “a faded, red leather book.”
James (Cinderella, Downton Abbey) said she’s long been a fan of period dramas and was “blown away” as a youngster watching Kate Winslet in Titanic. She was drawn to Natasha’s “vast” journey, which she described as “intoxicating,” and praised Tolstoy’s writing skill.
“I fell in love with Natasha when I read the book. I didn’t understand how Tolstoy could understand a 13-year-old girl like that,” she said.