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HTS Moderator , Reviewer
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Title: War & Peace

Movie: :4stars:
Video: :3.5stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Extras: :2stars:

HTS Overall Score:73

“War & Peace”. Talk about taking a bite out of something dense and complex and hoping to goodness that it’s well received. Ambitious is what I would use to describe the creators of Starz/Anchor Bay’s newest miniseries. “War & Peace” is one of those novels that you really can’t do justice with in a feature film, and just doesn’t have the material to last several seasons. That is unless you stretch the source material out in ways that are completely unnatural, as we have seen with several historical TV series as of late. Instead Tolstoy’s masterpiece is relegated to an 8 episode miniseries that actually does a REALLY good job at capturing as much of Tolstoy’s tale as possible without going too far or leaving out too much. As the home invader said in Goldilocks and the 3 Bears, “ah, it’s just right”.

Going into a fully detailed description of the plot is like trying to play whack a mole without arms. It’s really almost a futile experiment as the story is just THAT dense. Set during the time of the famous Napoleonic wars, we see the trials and tribulations of several families in Russia as they come face to face with reality and the dissolution of their rich fantasy life. Characters are maneuvering and plotting to take over what wealth they can, as well as come face to face with becoming an adult. Or not becoming an adult as some are so vehemently trying to hold on to their youth (despite the aging process). Tolstoy’s novel was not a lavish tale of excess and debauchery, but rather a poignant look on life and how we live it. The same goes for the miniseries as we see differing factions in the tale struggle with their life and their role in it. Some become disillusioned at what they see and what they experience as they go to war, and others find out that living at home in relative “peace” may not be as risk free as they assumed


There’s incest, revolt, bloodletting, betrayal and copious amounts of politics and family interactions to choke a horse. Award winning actress Gillian Anderson, Paul Dano, Lily James and Brian Cox make Leo Tolstoy’s novel come off the pages and into film in a way that hasn’t been done before. To date any of the “War & Peace” adaptations have been a bit lackluster due to the lack of time and effort spent on getting all the details right. Films have been tried and been sorely lacking as so much is left out. Here the success is evident in the balance between literary accuracy and the creation of an interesting tale that doesn’t feel too bogged down. One of the biggest accomplishments stems from the complex recreation of 19th century Russia, complete with costumes, political squabbles and costuming that is EXTREMELY accurate (even down to some of the medals worn at the time).

With me gushing you might think the series is perfect. As much as I’d like to say so, I have to agree with some criticisms that “War & Peace” is a difficult book to get through, and as such sometimes the miniseries is as well. That’s not to dissuade anyone or to make you think that the miniseries is a chore, but rather to point out that Tolstoy’s character driven drama is not something you sit down with a box of popcorn and cheer that the bad guy loses to the good guy. It’s a slow moving and complex, and dare I say, Introspective look at life in 19th century Russia. A painful time that was begging for revolution to happen amongst a class warfare situation that has been replicated throughout history in France, England and even America.


Rated TV-14

Video :3.5stars:
“War & Peace” comes to Blu-ray with a rather interesting looking 1.78:1 AVC encoded transfer. It doesn’t appear to have been graded, color processed or adjusted at ALL in a way to create a razor sharp image. Instead it focuses on being dreamy and ever so slightly hazy at times, creating the sensation that we’re watching something that is not of this era. Colors are solid, with good greens and blues and whites, but nothing seems to “pop” off the screen. Everything looks a bit gauzy, with like a thin layer of silk was laid over the lens, and whites tend to be rather aggressive stopping just outside of the blooming stage. There is no digital artifacitng that I could see besides the obligatory banding in a scene or two and some washed out blacks due to the white levels. It’s a solid looking picture, but from what I could tell with my research, some of this was definitely a stylistic choice with the digital photography.

Audio :4stars:
The singular 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is wholly pleasing, with strong vocal support and good use of the surrounds. Dialog is straight forward and crisply clean. Balanced well with the supporting sounds, every person is distinct and easily distinguishable throughout the 8 episodes and the surround activity is very pleasing. Gunshots and cannon fire come through all channels with equal aplomb and the less active moments still showcase a lot of fine activity through the surrounds, including the whispering of court officials during a party or the rasping of leather soled shoes across the floor. LFE is deep and impactful during the wartime moments, but otherwise stays rather reserved throughout the rest of the film. Still, while everything is pleasing and passes the litmus test of being properly encoded, the track doesn’t feel as “full” as I would have expected. Making me feel as if there could have been something more with the track.

Extras :2stars:

• From Page to Screen
• The Read Through
• Making the Music
• Count Rostov's Dance
• Rundale Palace
• What Is "War & Peace"?

Overall: :3.5stars:

“War & Peace” actually does a really good job of exploring Leo Tolstoy’s impressive and sprawling novel. I was a little worried initially, as so many great novels of classic literature have been butchered in a miniseries or movie, but Director Tom Harper does an admirable job at creating the more active bits of the novel, as well as exploring the more drama centric bits that make up the complex tapestry that is “War & Peace”. It’s not wholly perfect, but as miniseries go, it is well worth a watch and definitely head and shoulders above many of its ilk in terms of accuracy and tone. Audio is very good, and video is impressive enough, but sadly the extras are a tad sparse. Still, definitely worth a watch if you enjoy classic literature on the silver screen.

Additional Information:

Starring: Paul Dano, Lily James
Directed By: Tom Harper
Written by: Andrew Davies, Leo Tolstoy (Novel)
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Studio: Starz/Anchor Bay
Rated: TV-14
Runtime: 360 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: May 10th, 2016

Buy War & Peace on Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Good watch

More about Mike

2,072 Posts
Thanks for the review. I will have to check this one out. I read the novel back in the days and while it is a huge undertaking considering the size of the novel, it was well worth the read. The movie likewise would have to be stretched a bit to include what the book had and by doing it in a mini-series, it most properly was able to. I also like period pieces so looking forward to seeing this.
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