Despite having read the book twice (I’m 43, there’s been time for reading) all I can remember is page after page of Pierre rattling round his vast estates and sweating the small stuff (namely, what to do about the serfs? And Crops: Where To Put Them?) With all the sex, war and dancing gone down my cerebral-swanny, I was ready for a BBC re-boot.
Though I missed last Sunday’s opener, I did get to view it later in the week, when my husband brought it up on ‘Catch-Up’, then sat down on the sofa beside me and called it a date.
So what did we think? (My tired husband and I, arbiters of nothing….)
First up, Natasha. She’s our heroine. We knew this because she twirls about in an empire-line frock, clasps everyone by both hands and is played by Lily James. Last year, Lily James was Disney’s Cinderella. But now she’s been shipped back to Auntie Beeb, so her blonde curls have been flattened into a heavy fringe, and instead of a pumpkin, she’s got Boris.
Boris, eh. Who he? Haven’t a clue, to be honest. Nor does Natasha. He just lurks about, aristo-style (wearing epaulettes and looking bored) until his Big Moment – when he gets to step out from behind an aspidistra and snog Natasha in the orangery. (This is Russia, 1805, after all: If a girl’s caught sweating among the succulents, she’s going to get her boobs felt). The snog proved anti-climactic, sadly, as did everything about Boris, who appeared weighed down by his historical costume and – until called to fight in the Napoleonic Wars – did nothing more than Stand In Corner With Mobile on Vibrate.
Lucky for Boris, his mum was played by Rebecca Front, who did the minimum of bobbing, curtseying and generally ‘talking like ye olde posh Russian person’ before getting stuck into the thick of it, fighting for the inheritance rights of Pierre and wrestling his cheating aunt in a deathbed bitch-slap.
Aunts, cheating or otherwise, abound. (In Imperial Russia, it appears they’re all cousins above a certain pay-grade). Notable Aunt no.2 is played by Greta Saatchi, who looks perpetually startled at the best of times, and now appears horrified to find herself married (for the next few Sundays at least) to Ade Edmondson. While Greta tries to make the best of it on the Ottoman, Ade prances round laughing over-heartily, like a Dangerous Brother who’s nicked his sister’s frilly shirt, then gone too hard on the Poppers.
Fortunately this is all made bearable for me – and I’m guessing many other female viewers – by the presence of James Norton. “What do you see in him?” asked my husband (who’d abandoned all Tolstoyan sub-plots about ten seconds in, and was now fully concentrating on Plants v Zombies). “He just gawps. He doesn’t DO anything.”
But maybe that’s what I like. Erotically-speaking, James Norton fills the gap between smouldering and vacant. As Prince Andre, he says little of interest but does look kissable with big hair. When he does ‘emote’, it’s merely to clench his jaw (possibly to keep his big hair from sliding off. I don’t know what they’ve fashioned his wig from, but it doesn’t seem to be taking to the Sellotape).
In short, he does all I want from a man, namely look mournful in tight trousers. He needs someone to save him (and take his trousers off) but until then, he’s going to play the hero and hurl himself at Napoleon’s canons rather than return home to the Pregnant Wife Whom He Does Not Love. Indeed, in possibly the most dramatic scene ever to pivot round an upholstered chair, Prince Andre is forced to put aside his clinging wife. Untwining her arms from his, he assigns her to aforementioned chair in a move strong enough to merit the verb ‘plonk’.
To a 43 year-old housewife parked on a sofa and eating a potato off her lap, it’s all wildly exciting. I suspect James Norton is going to be lifting Lily’s fringe very soon, and intend to keep watching ‘War and Peace’ until either her bodice/ his trousers/ my jacket rips.