Leo Tolstoy’s epic 1869 novel War & Peace is undeniably one of the great classics of world literature. Although it covers a considerable time period, its climactic episodes involve the Napoleonic Wars and specifically the French invasion of Russia in 1812. In this, a special crossover episode with Dr. Sean Munger’s other podcast Green Screen, Sean and guest host Cody Climer delve into the 2016 BBC miniseries adaptation of War & Peace, starring Paul Dano and Lily James, focusing specifically on its finale which deals with the Battle of Borodino, the 1812 French sack of Moscow and the aftermath.
In this episode, you will revisit the French invasion of Russia in 1812 (a saga which made an appearance earlier in Second Decade, episodes 10-12) but this time we will see it specifically through the lens of modern cinema. While the 2016 miniseries is the focus, you’ll also compare and contrast this adaptation with previous versions of the novel, filmed in 1915, 1956, 1966-67 and 1972. As Green Screen is specifically about the environment, the environmental and ecological dimensions of the French-Russian war, and of Tolstoy himself, are emphasized. If this is your first exposure to Green Screen, we encourage you to check it out!
The original television trailer for the 2016 BBC version of War and Peace.
Vasily Vereschagin’s 1897 painting Napoleon Near Borodino is a more accurate depiction of the French commander at the battle than is given in this series.
This map from 1817, five years after the disaster, shows just how devastating the Great Fire of Moscow was. The black areas are parts of the city that were still burned-out at that time.
The 1956 Dino DiLaurentiis version of War and Peace was much more concerned with romantic melodrama. This clip demonstrates the fatal casting mismatch of Henry Fonda and Audrey Hepburn. Still, the film was a financial, if not critical, success.
Sergei Bondarchuk’s immense adaptation of the novel, released in the USSR in 1966-67, has recently been remastered and re-released. Here’s a trailer incorporating highlights and footage.
The 1972 BBC version is decidedly smaller-scale. Here is the complete episode that encompasses the Battle of Borodino and the retreat from Moscow, starring young Anthony Hopkins as Pierre Bezhukov.
Here is the trailer for The Last Station, the 2009 romance/drama depicting author Lev Tolstoy’s final days and his tumultuous relationship with his wife Sonya. War and Peace is referred to several times in the film.
Napoleon in Cinema
Georg Rockall-Schmidt, a YouTube film critic, examines the 1981 film Time Bandits as part of an analysis of the cinema of Terry Gilliam. The material on Napoleon, and Ian Holm’s comic portrayal of him, begins at 2:10.
Napoleon (Terry Camilleri) yuks it up with an ice cream sundae in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989). It is curious that Napoleon easily slides into a figure of comedy, but the same treatment of Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin is much harder to pull off.
All images are in the public domain, except the header image which is presumably (C) 2016 by BBC. Its inclusion here is believed permissible under fair use. We are not the uploader of any YouTube videos embedded here.