Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel War and Peace always seemed like one of those books that people like to claim to have read but may not have actually done so, mainly given its formidable size, clocking in at well over 1,000 pages. If you fall into this category, you’re in luck, as a BBC adaptation of the novel — airing in the United States across the A&E, History and Lifetime networks — condenses the story into its main elements and delivers a strong costume drama the likes of which used to be featured regularly on A&E and History. (Whether or not the miniseries is faithful to the novel, I, of course, can’t tell you, since I’m one of those who has not even attempted to read the book.)
Paul Dano, Lily James, James Norton, Gillian Anderson and Jim Broadbent are among the large ensemble cast, and they are all terrific. The story is set against the backdrop of Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia, and features plenty of action, romance and intrigue as it follows the rising and falling fortunes of five aristocratic families in the waning days of imperial Russia.
Andrew Davies, who has written several adaptations of classic novels, took on the huge task of condensing Tolstoy’s classic into a miniseries that engages modern-day audiences. The U.S. cut, which will air in two-hour blocks over four nights, will differ somewhat from the U.K. version, which airs in six hourlong installments, but the drama, lovely production and great performances remain intact.
War and Peace airs Mondays at 9pm ET on A&E, History and Lifetime beginning Jan. 18.
© 2016 Mitch Jenkins