The BBC are known for their great drama; and it’s now been announced that they will be turning the epic novel War and Peace in to a six-part drama, written by Andrew Davies. But can such a huge novel be put in to a mere six hours of screen time?
It was last adapted back in the Seventies, with Anthony Hopkins playing Pierre. But Davies, whose adaptation of Pride & Prejudice made That Lake Scene and a certain Colin Firth infamous, has refused to speculate on who will be taking such roles (rumour has it that Eddie Redmayne could be one of the picks, despite the production being in such early stages… though the actor is quite often suggested for every role out there at the moment, including allegedly being a contender for a part in 50 Shades of Grey).
Instead, he prefers to discuss just quite how he is going to squeeze a 1,225 page novel in to six episodes. And it’s all down to the characters… and less of Tolstoy’s historical and military theories.
At the centre of War and Peace are four families, whose interactions, decisions and ultimate actions that create the heart of the novel, and drives it to its conclusion. It is these things that Davies plans to focus on – likening the drama to Eastenders, without the yelling. He promises a faithful retelling of Tolstoy, without the pages around Napoleon’s defeat to the Russians. BBC One controller Danny Cohen promises something “truly epic in scale”, but something that isn’t quite as daunting as the novel (though don’t confuse that with being ‘dumbed down’, as it certainly won’t be).
But are six hours enough? The Lord of the Rings (whose total page count barely tops 1,000) took anything between 6 and 12 hours to re-tell, depending on whether or not you’re watching the extended versions, and that skimmed over a fair number of characters and plot points. With something so vast as War and Peace, with a cast of hundreds, can it be condensed down to a BBC drama?
Davies thinks it can. The BBC can do good drama, and Andrew Davies has won BAFTAs for his expertise, so this could be the dream team to bring Leo Tolstoy’s epic alive.
Having never read the book (I think I got 10o or so pages in and lost track of who was who so lost interest), I’m not sure I can say whether or not it really will be a good representation, when it finally reaches our screens. I’m very much of the opinion that you can’t accurately decide whether or not it’s adapted well if you haven’t seen/read one side of it.
But I am intrigued.
Part of me really wants to read War and Peace, because I feel that I am missing a great story, whilst another part of me doesn’t have the energy. Could this be a happy solution to test-run the story, and see if I like it, before picking up that massive book again? After all, I wouldn’t want to read 1,225 pages and then decide that I didn’t like it.
I had the same experience with Les Misérables. I have never seen the stage show, never read the book, and pretty much knew nothing about the plot before I went to see the film. I knew, going in, that this wasn’t a chance to discuss the merits of a classic musical, but rather a chance for me to test the waters and see if I actually liked the story, before spending a fortune to see it on stage.
(I would be willing to spend a fortune to see it on stage now, by the way)
Have you ever read the book? Or are you in the same boat as me, and kind of want to see the adaptation before giving the real thing a go? I have a lot of faith in Davies’ writing (small ref. Colin Firth again), not least because his adaptations of Pride & Prejudice, Little Dorrit and Bleak House have been delicately handled and beautifully cast, and for the most part do honour to the original authors. I don’t even like Dickens that much, and I read Bleak House following watching the drama. For me, that’s a good sign of an adaptation.
My fear here? That they will have to create more of a soap opera than a drama, because they simply don’t have time to explain the intricacies.
What do you think of the adaptation?
Will it ever work?