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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Last Station


Starring: Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren, James McAvoy and Paul Giamatti
Optimum Home Entertainment
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 15
Available 21 June 2010

In the last days of his life Tolstoy, arguably one of the greatest novelists, struggles to reconcile his wealth and fame with the desire for a purer aesthetic life. His is beset on all sides with followers, the Tolstyians, who try to emulate a form of living which Tolstoy himself does not even follow, much to the annoyance of his wife, especially as they want him to sign away his books copyright, which would leave his family impoverished. Into this mix comes Valentin Bulgakov, newly appointed secretary, an idealist but also a man with an open mind and heart...

The Last Station (2009 - 1 hr, 47 min, 52 sec) is a historical drama written and directed by Michael Hoffman and adapted from the original novel by Jay Parini. The film won two awards and was nominated for a further eleven, including two Oscars for Christopher Plummer (Leo Tolstoy) and Helen Mirren (Sofya Tolstoy).

At its heart this film is about passion. Tolstoy and his wife enjoyed a physically passionate relationship and a turbulent household - where drama seems to have been created, often just for the sake of it - where all members of the household keep diaries on what everyone else was saying and doing.

Our introduction and guide to this strange world is through the eyes of Tolstoy’s new personal secretary Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy), a self professed follower of Tolstoy, vegetarian and virgin, who is sent to his country home as part spy by Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) to keep an eye on the countess, who Chertkov distrusts as she want to keep the money made from his books in the family, rather than give the books away for free.

However, on his arrival he finds the house almost turned into a commune and Tolstoy surrounded by flatterers, including his own doctor Dushan (John Sessions). Bulgakov’s journey takes him to a greater understanding of the countess’s position and a gradual distrust of Chertkov’s motives. This isn’t particularly hard as Giamatti does little to disguise that he is supposed to be playing the villain of the piece.

The film is a bit of a conundrum. Plummer plays Tolstoy initially as a kindly fellow, with a beard which makes him look not unlike Father Christmas. This Tolstoy hates personal wealth, thinks that a life without sex is preferable and writes against the power of the church, but this is also that man who has allowed a cult of personality to grow around him, who cavorts with his wife whilst making chicken noises and only gives up his station and wealth in the last few days of his life. Little wonder that his wife, Sofya, spends much of her time exasperated. There is a natural sweetness in the love between Tolstoy and Sofya which Plummer and Mirren capture perfectly.

The film is presented with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and options for a Dolby Digital 5.1 or stereo 2.0 track, plus English subtitles. Extras on the disc kick off with an Interview with Director Michael Hoffman (38 min, 23 sec) which pretty much takes you through the discovery of the novel to the completion of the film. Conversations on The Last Train (44 min, 19 sec) with the cast discussing their roles and how they approached them - it’s obvious that all were happy with the final result. The disc is wrapped up with the original theatrical trailer (2 min, 10 sec).

The cast alone should guarantee good performances, which is what they present. The odd logical plot holes aside; this should appeal to fans of historical dramas.


Charles Packer

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