War and Peace is a very famous novel by Leo Tolstoy. One of the most famous, if you believe what other people say about it.
It’s also really long. Epically long.
It’s four volumes, 1,255 pages weaving the lives of five aristocratic families (among roughly 600 characters) in 19th century Russia with religious philosophy, military strategy and economic theory.
It is a hoot.
I haven’t read it.
“Um, why didn’t you read the book for this article,” you might be asking. Well, that’s a great question. The answer is that I just didn’t have 45 years to write this article. There was a much tighter deadline. And frankly, I am just not up to it. And I’m not alone.
So I’m going to watch the TV show.
And you should too. Why?
I've got 10 easy-to-read reasons:
You don’t have the time to read this book
You might think you do. It might even be on your shelf. But you don’t have the time, I promise you. You barely have time to read three-minute articles on your phone! How are you going to get through 1,255 pages?
Newsflash: You’re not.
People who like the book also like the show
Have you heard of Clive James? I have. I think. Anyway, he loves the Tolstoy novel. He says things like, “No human feeling was unknown to him,” which sounds like a very big compliment, if a bit difficult to prove.
Well, Clive (seriously, the name does ring a bell) seemed to enjoy the show.
Not even the people involved with the series could bring themselves to read this book until they were paid to
“I’d always meant to get round to reading War and Peace,” said Paul Dano, who plays Pierre.
Is "Leo" short for anything? What is Tolstoy hiding?
It’s a minor gripe, but you know I’m right. You feel it too.
Da Vinci, DiCaprio and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle are all Leonardos. But Tolstoy? In English, he's just Leo. In Russian, he’s called Lev Nikolayevich. Are you going to sit through 587,287 words where this is not explained?
You don’t want to be one of those “the book was better” people
We’ve all been there.
You’re deep in the throes of a fast-moving, hard-hitting cultural conversation, exploring the intricacies of a movie or a TV show. Ideas are flowing freely. Bonds are being made.
Then, out of nowhere, someone says, “The book was better.”
The record scratches, a baby cries and the conversation grinds to a halt.
Everyone looks at the person (usually named Glen) sitting there stroking his goatee, thinking about how much smarter he is than everyone else because he’s read the book.
Get over yourself, Glen!
History is full of movies that are better than the book
As discussed, I haven’t read War and Peace, but given all of the other screen entertainment that has surpassed the source material, I think it’s safe to say that this series is better than the book. By the transitive property. (That’s a mathematical term. And maths is never wrong.)
Just take a look at this list:
Silence of the Lambs
Lord of the Rings trilogy (that’s right, I said it)
The Princess Bride
A Clockwork Orange
Up in the Air
There Will Be Blood
You can avoid being one of those people who complains about casting
When I found out that Paul Dano was going to play Pierre, I did not become furious, because I have no idea how he’s described in the book. What I did know was that Dano was good in There Will Be Blood.
And when Lily James was cast as Natasha, all I thought was, “I liked her in Downton Abbey.”
And that was the end of it.
I didn’t jump on Twitter and create #NotMyPierre or stop people in the street to scream, “Tolstoy wanted Natasha to be taller!” I moved on with my life.
I haven’t watched the other adaptations out there - and I won’t - but I can say with 100% certainty that this one’s the best
Yes, there are other screen versions of War and Peace out there, but I have no idea how to watch them. And while I would never tell anyone what to watch, I am pretty sure you should not watch those versions.
But go ahead. See what happens. Watch the 1956 movie. It’s got Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda wearing glasses. And it’s three and a half hours long. Good luck:
Or you could try the 1972 BBC 20-episode version with Anthony Hopkins. I mean, why not? After all, it does feature this totally natural and not at all unsettling moment:
Jim Broadbent, Gillian Anderson and Brian Cox are not in the book
They weren’t even born yet.
But they are in the show.
If you have to read the book - and you most certainly do not - you can read it after you watch the series
In the UK, watching this series inspired people to buy the book and put it on the bestseller list for the first time.
Whether any of those people actually read the book remains a mystery.
The entire first series of War & Peace is streaming at SBS On Demand: