There recently was a contest on television rating the 100 best ever works of fiction. To Kill a Mockingbird was the final winner, but, in my opinion, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace should have been the winner as the best work of fiction ever written — perhaps that will ever be written.
It weaves together various aristocratic romantic as well as, at times, sinister and self-seeking relationships in a backdrop of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and ultimate defeat at the hands of the Russian military and the Russian winter. The central character is this somewhat credulous but very humane character Pierre who seems to always find himself in the middle of things — both the various romantic relationships as well as the French invasion itself. One finds Pierre committing one folly after another, but going through a learning process and ultimately gaining a deeper humanity for it.
There was a television miniseries based on Tolstoy’s novel that’s now available on Hulu. The screenplay and staging are both excellent, the acting superior, and the miniseries really does this classic novel complete justice. Yet the miniseries when it was first aired received little recognition and applause for all of that. But then again there’s no underestimating American taste.
Nevertheless, Paul Dano played the role of the bumbling but appealing Pierre Bezukhov, the pivotal lead character of the novel, to perfection. He got both Pierre’s early stupefaction and his later enlightenment and character development just right. Bravo to Paul Dano for bringing this wonderful Tolstoyan character to life.