War And Peace is Harvey Weinstein’s favorite novel he said, calling it his “great triumph” to have read the dense 19th century novel at age 12 after being given a copy by his librarian next-door neighbor when he had to stay home for a period after having his right eye “blasted” in an accident.
Kicking off the TCA session on the project, Rob Sharenow, EVP and GM of A&E and Lifetime asked for a show of hands from those who had actually read the book in its entirety. Hardly anyone, according to his poll – perfectly qualifying them to discuss the project. One critic wondered how Weinstein had “cracked the code” on the book that had intimidated so many in the room. Another marveled that Weinstein just pulled off a three-hour movie with intermission (The Hateful Eight) and that War And Peace was going to spool out over several nights, wondering what makes him think viewers will sit through “long stories.” From which we may conclude this critic had just crawled out from under the flat rock he’d called home the past several years, missing such TV sagas as, oh, maybe Downton?
Weinstein responded patiently that one of the great thing about television today is “you can do great work and have the time to tell the story properly.” Weinstein also explained patiently to the critic that hit movie and TV projects based on literary classics tend to make people scurry out to buy the book, forecasting a brisk business for War And Peace once this opens in the U.S. “I think we will see schools put it on their curriculum. I think this will inspire a whole new generation.”
Speaking thereof, UK viewers got their first look at the six-part epic on Sunday night with 6.3M tuning in, for a 25 share at 9 PM local time. Reception for the lush period drama has been positive there, with mentions of the series as an antidote for folks still bemoaning the end of Downton Abbey. Downton‘s Lily James stars with Paul Dano, James Norton, Tuppence Middleton, Gillian Anderson, Stephen Rea and Jim Broadbent in the adaptation by the prolific Andrew Davies (House Of Cards, Bridget Jones, Bleak House). The limited series, to which Davies has said he “added a bit more sex” than is in the book, is made by BBC Cymru Wales in partnership with The Weinstein Co and BBC Worldwide/Lookout Point.
Tolstoy’s expansive novel begins in 1805 Russia and revolves around five aristocratic families set against the backdrop of the reign of Alexander I, the lingering effects of his grandmother Catherine The Great’s rule and the events surrounding Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. It’s enough to make the eyes of most TCA attendees glaze over. But, like Weinstein, director Tom Harper gave a lot of credit to Andrew Davies, who wrangled the 1,225 page novel into the project. “He has a phenomenal instinct,” raved Harper, who directed every hour of the miniseries. Davies, Harper said, took out a lot of the long-ish philosophical and religious passages, and focused on the love triangle that drives the story.
One critic wondered if a student who watched this miniseries in lieu of reading the book would “screw up” in writing a term paper about it. Harper insisted it’s very “faithful to the book” but adds an “energy” that will appeal to a modern audience. “It was important to us that we try and make it fresh and vibrant.”