Tolstoy’s life comes from Russia with love

The Last Station (15) Director Michael Hoffman Starring James McAvoy, Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, Paul Giamatti, Anne-Marie Duff 112 mins Two star rating Towards the end of his life Tolstoy (Plummer) renounced private property and advocated cha

The Last Station (15) Director Michael Hoffman Starring James McAvoy, Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, Paul Giamatti, Anne-Marie Duff

112 mins

Two star rating

Towards the end of his life Tolstoy (Plummer) renounced private property and advocated chastity and passive resistance. Such was his influence that a group of followers were formed called the Tolstoyans, led by Chertkov (Giamatti). But the demands of being a religious leader drives a wedge between Tolstoy and his devoted wife Sofya (Mirren) who is particularly unhappy about his plan to change his will, release the copyright on his work and make it free to the people of Russia.


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And that is what Tolstoy was up to right before he died.

In this adaptation of the novel by Jay Parini, it's all seen through the eyes of his new secretary Bulgakov (McAvoy), an earnest, idealistic young fellow whose ideals quickly drop away after a pretty girl puts out for him.

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Classy actors with Russian beards and English accents in a rich slice of costume drama. There is always an audience for that and if this sounds like your thing, stop reading and go see it.

There are plenty of big themes to get stuck into - how attempts to live a selfless Christian life will be interpreted as a selfish rejection by family, the way a charismatic leader's views will inevitably be twisted and misinterpreted by his followers, the instinctive desire by followers to turn them into sacred icons. Primarily though, it's about love.

It reeks of quality but is largely undramatic, the odd hysterical outburst apart. The fluctuations in the relationship between the Count and Countess Tolstoy seem arbitrary. I'm not sure you believe that he really feels trapped by his life of privilege, it's a position he's rationalised himself into taking.

There seems to me to be something fundamentally dishonest about the film. Each of the characters is well intentioned, sincere and acting out of a genuine regard for Tolstoy. Yet, Giamatti's Chertkov is still very clearly presented as the villain of the piece just so the film can hammer home that all you need is love.

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