Don't get your knickers in a twist over nude scenes, Sir Anthony Hopkins tells 'Phwoar & Peace' critics
It's been dubbed Phwoar And Peace by critics over its sex scenes and a plotline featuring an incestuous relationship barely hinted at in Tolstoy’s epic novel.
But the BBC’s new sexed-up version of War And Peace has surprisingly won the backing of Sir Anthony Hopkins, the man who starred in a far more strait-laced adaptation more than 40 years ago.
The veteran actor has even told critics to stop getting their ‘knickers in a twist’ over the nude scenes featuring Tuppence Middleton as beautiful and alluring socialite Helene Kuragina and Callum Turner as her brother Anatole.
The BBC’s new sexed-up version of War And Peace has surprisingly won the backing of Sir Anthony Hopkins. Above, Tuppence Middleton strips off in one of the episodes
Hopkins, 78, describes the new series as ‘excellent’ and is particular impressed by Paul Dano in the role of hapless but heroic Pierre Bezukhov – the part Hopkins played in 1972.
‘It’s beautifully filmed and both the direction and the acting are superlative,’ declared Hopkins in an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday. ‘It’s a great cast. Lily James is perfect and so beautiful as Natasha, and Paul Dano is terrific.’ His comments will be welcomed at the BBC as the adaptation continues to divide opinion. Even some of the current show’s six million fans have expressed concern that the series is too short at just six one-hour episodes. In contrast, Hopkins’s 1972 version spanned 20 episodes.
The actor said: ‘A lot is packed into each episode but the battle scenes are excellent and none of the essential story is lost.’
The veteran actor has even told critics to stop getting their ‘knickers in a twist’ over the nude scenes. Above, the cast of War and Peace
Nor can he get hot under the collar over the decision by screenwriter Andrew Davies to introduce bedroom scenes.
‘Writers of screenplays have every freedom to write in what they want,’ said Hopkins. ‘The same with Shakespeare productions – they are open to interpretation.’
He added: ‘I don’t bother myself with all that huffing and puffing protest. It’s so unimportant. Everyone gets their knickers in a twist but life goes on.’
Sir Anthony as Pierre Bezuhov 1971 version of War and Peace
Watching the new version has even inspired the Welshman to read the novel again. ‘It’ll be my third read of it,’ he said.
‘It took me a lifetime to finish it the first time around. It’s a great book but a bit like being on the retreat from Moscow.’
Hopkins’s Pierre was acclaimed by the critics, but he confessed he didn’t think he was the best thing in it.
‘I didn’t have much to say in those days – I just learned the lines, I suppose, and hoped it would turn out OK,’ he said.
‘I remember thinking Alan Dobie, who played Prince Andrei, was remarkable. He was such a restrained actor. He was very good.
‘I thought I was a bit all over the place in it. I was in my early 30s and as an actor I was enjoying myself too much.’ But Hopkins, who has no plans to retire because he enjoys working so much, does not like to watch his own work these days.
‘I rarely look back and never see anything I’ve been involved in,’ he explained. ‘It seems pointless, something like trying to remember dreams – an exercise in futility.’
His new film Collide will be released in April, and later in the year he will be seen in the hotly awaited sci-fi drama Westworld. Last year, he starred in an acclaimed BBC adaptation of The Dresser alongside Sir Ian McKellen.
War And Peace continues on BBC1 tonight at 9pm.
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The real (even racier) Phwoar and Peace: Think the TV series is raunchy? The real-life aristocrats Tolstoy's characters were based on were even more debauched - and heroic
- War And Peace, set in Russia, is on Sunday at 9pm on BBC1
- James Norton, Tuppence Middleton and Lily James star in the epic
- Based on real historical titans like Napoleon and Tsar Alexander of Russia
- Historian reveals the real life people who inspired the characters
James Norton, Tuppence Middleton and Lily James play delicious fictional characters caught up in the blood-spattered, gold-brocaded, bare-shouldered, spread-eagled, high-booted magnificence of the battlefields, balls and bedrooms of the Russia of the Napoleonic Wars in War And Peace.
But they also rub shoulders with real historical titans in the story. Among them are Napoleon, Tsar Alexander of Russia, Generals Kutuzov and Bagration and so many others that viewers may wonder which are real and which are Tolstoy's creations.
Some of Tolstoy's characters are among the greatest in literature. The writer himself frequented the highest echelons of Russian society. He collected the gossip of the Tsars, the nobility and his own family and diligently researched the history of 1812 and the Battle of Borodino, that murderous draw between Napoleon and Kutuzov. Tolstoy made it the climactic showpiece of Russian heroism in his 1,300-page novel.
War & Peace's Helene Kuragin, played by Tuppence Middleton, is typical of the high society vamps of the time
For me the BBC's lavish drama is especially fun since I have just spent three years writing my new book The Romanovs, about the dynasty that ruled Russia from 1613 until the Revolution in 1917. It's the family story of the Tsars, a chronicle of passion, power and pleasure, murder and mayhem on an epic scale with the drama of 1812 at its centre, and the duel between the French Emperor and Tsar Alexander is my book's climax too.
My main characters are the Emperor and the Tsar, their generals and courtiers, their wives, mothers and mistresses, many of whom appear in Tolstoy's novel either under their own names or as recognisable combinations of real people.
I feel I've lived among these people for years and for me, watching War And Peace on TV is like seeing the Romanovs brought to life. So what was the real story - and was it even more scandalous than Andrew Davies's dramatic version?
The Romanovs 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore is published by Weidenfeld on 28 January. War And Peace is on Sunday at 9pm on BBC1.
The general with a taste for hussies
Of all the real-life characters, the most important is General Mikhail Kutuzov (right), played by Brian Cox (left)
Of all the real-life characters, the most important is General Mikhail Kutuzov, played by Brian Cox: he was indeed very old, very fat and very lazy. He was one-eyed and fell asleep at vital moments. Tolstoy portrays him as a sort of personification of Russian soul and genius, but he was none of these things.
His eye wound came from a Turkish bullet in Catherine the Great's Ottoman wars which had amazingly entered through his temple and come out of his eye without killing him. He was happily married but notoriously debauched, always accompanied by an entourage of gorgeous peasant mistresses, and it was said that even at the Battle of Borodino, where he was nearly decrepit, he was still accompanied by two young hussies disguised as soldiers!
Guess who inspired loveable Pierre...
Tolstoy (right) was nicknamed the Bear - and can be found in Pierre Bezukhov, played by Paul Dano
Every novelist plants fragments of himself in many of his characters, but two in particular contain aspects of the novelist. One is Prince Andrei Bolkonsky. He is Tolstoy's aristocratic cold and reticent self.
His other half - the boorish young Tolstoy who was nicknamed the Bear, and the Troglodyte - can be found in Pierre Bezukhov, played by Paul Dano, an awkward debauchee like Tolstoy. The novelist despised himself as a fornicator who seduced whenever possible the serfgirls he owned, just as Pierre loved the whores he enjoys at the Dolokhov/Kuragin orgies.
Yet simultaneously like Tolstoy, Pierre is a man of authentic emotions and morals who deplores Russian backwardness, serfdom and Romanov autocracy, longing for the freedoms of the French Revolution and the equalities of socialism. Pierre too is an outsider; honest, and loving, and incapable of court sycophancy. Pierre, more than anyone, is Tolstoy.
The prince exiled to Siberia
Major General Prince Sergei Volkonsky 1788 1865, a hero of the 1812 campaign against Napoleon
War & Peace's Prince Andrei (JAMES NORTON), and Natasha Rostov (LILY JAMES)
The dashing Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, played by James Norton, was based on Prince Sergei Volkonsky, Tolstoy's cousin and hero in real life. Volkonsky was a handsome, clever liberal who believed that autocracy and serfdom were evil, views shared by Tolstoy himself.
Hence the novel's hero contains part of Tolstoy himself too. Sergei was an adjutant to Tsar Alexander, but after the wars he joined the 1825 Decembrist revolt when Russian officers led a protest against Nicholas I's assumption of the throne.
The plot failed and Volkonsky was exiled to Siberia for 30 years, losing everything. His beautiful wife Maria accompanied him and became known as the Princess of Siberia. Volkonsky was allowed to return when Alexander II took the throne in 1855, just as Tolstoy was planning a novel based on his life story.
But to understand the Decembrist uprising, Tolstoy thought he needed to start the novel during the Napoleonic Wars and gradually his novel about Prince Sergei Volkonsky became War And Peace.
Natasha Rostova, played by Lily James, is based on Tolstoy's sister-in-law Tanya Behrs (pictured)
A girl adored
In the TV series the Rostov house rings with laughter and love. The father Ilya, played by Adrian Edmondson, who loves to dance, was partly based on Tolstoy's free-spending grandfather, Count Ilya Tolstoy. But the most joyful household belonged to a Moscow family the novelist also knew well: that of his father-in-law, Dr Andrei Behrs, physician to the Tsars.
Playful and passionate Natasha Rostova, played by Lily James, is based on Tolstoy's sister-in-law Tanya Behrs (inset) who like Natasha was adored for her ebullience and charm. Like Natasha, whose innocence is tainted by dastardly suitors, Tanya had a flirtation and semi-engagement with Tolstoy's older and more dashing brother Sergei who was entangled with a gypsy-girl with whom he had children. In the end Tanya broke it off and attempted suicide by swallowing disinfectant.
Incest and two voracious vamps
Helene and Anatole's family, the Kuragins, and their father Prince Vassily, the scheming, craven courtier played brilliantly by Stephen Rea, are inspired by the real-life noble court clan the Kurakins led by the veteran minister Prince Alexander Kurakin who, famed for his wealth, greed and ostentation, was known as the Diamond Prince: like Kuragin he was obsessed with every detail of rank and court status.
Helene, played by Tuppence Middleton, the voracious princess, is typical of the high society vamps of the time, and like many she becomes very close to the Tsar. She is clearly based on a compilation of the Tsar's real-life mistresses, but if anything her behaviour is somewhat circumspect compared to the most notorious, Princess Katya Bagration (inset), the gorgeous and lubricious wife of ferocious general Prince Bagration, hero of Borodino, who is played by Pip Torrens in the TV series.
A curvaceous, blue-eyed blonde, Princess Katya was nicknamed The Naked Angel or Nude Venus because she favoured see-through dresses to show off her remarkable body, and she was also known as The White Pussycat because of her sexual skill and enthusiasm.
She had affairs with both Tsar Alexander and Austrian Chancellor Prince Metternich and at the Congress of Vienna in 1814 - a peace conference that took place two years after the events in War And Peace - Austrian police reports described her apartment as the world's most exclusive royal and aristocratic bordello.
Helene also has a partly Romanov basis. For those in the know about Russian society in 1812, the intimacy between Helene and her brother Prince Anatole - presented as incestuous in the TV adaptation but not actually stated as such in the book - would have recalled one very rarefied real-life relationship that Tolstoy would never dare specify even when he was writing his novel 50 years later.
Tsar Alexander I's closest and most passionate relationship was not with his many mistresses but with his own forceful, intelligent and conspiratorial sister Grand Duchess Catherine - known as Catiche. She was full-lipped, haughty and seductive with lustrous long hair, and her close intimacy with her brother was notorious.
As she was much younger than him they had not grown up together, and there is no doubt he was very attracted to her. He loved kissing her feet, hands, nose and lips, calling her 'the most delicious thing that ever existed' and praising 'your nose on which I press the tenderest of kisses'. Hot stuff for a sister!
Mistresses and mistakes
Tsar Alexander, played by Ben Lloyd-Hughes (left) is much maligned in War And Peace by being treated as a vain but weak and showy non-entity who favoured German popinjays over real Russian heroes. Unlike the dark, weaselly tsar of the BBC series, the real tall, blonde, blue-eyed emperor (right) had dazzling good looks and his affairs were legion. His father was the demented Tsar Paul. Alexander had taken the decision to back the overthrow of his father but Paul was viciously murdered so that the young Tsar was forever haunted by his role in the killing of his own father.
Alexander made appalling mistakes overruling Kutuzov at Austerlitz, as shown in episode two of the TV series, but, in fact, his preparations for Napoleon's invasion ultimately created the army that fought at Borodino. He was not as brilliant as his ancestor Peter the Great or his grandmother Catherine the Great, but as the tsar who conquered Paris and destroyed Napoleon, he was one of the greatest Romanovs.
Dolokhov, played by Tom Burke (left) is the psychopathic wild man, gambler, seducer, duellist and soldier. He is based on Count Fyodor Tolstoy (left), one of the most extraordinary characters of the 1812 era
A truly dangerous seducer
Dolokhov, played by Tom Burke is the psychopathic wild man, gambler, seducer, duellist and soldier in the TV series. He's the leader of the crazily debauched set that includes the Kuragins and Pierre Bezukhov. When he seduces Pierre's wife Helene, Pierre challenges him to a duel. Dolokhov is actually based on Tolstoy's fascinating cousin, Count Fyodor Tolstoy, known as 'Americansky' - the American - one of the most extraordinary characters of the 1812 era.
Brilliantly intelligent, bizarrely eccentric and truly dangerous, he killed 13 men in duels, travelled on a voyage to the Sandwich Islands in the Pacific, where he seduced many women including the local Queen, and then sailed to America (hence his nickname) and returned with a pet ape.
He was a gambling cardsharp who was friends with the poet Pushkin. Brave in battle, he served in the militia not the main army at Borodino where he was wounded and decorated with medals. In the end his debts were so great he was about to commit suicide when a young gypsy girl, Pashenka, with whom he had often caroused, offered him the money to pay back his debts. 'Where on earth did you get the money?' he asked her. 'From you. It's what you gave me at different times, I saved it all,' she said. 'Please take it. It's yours!' She saved him and he married her.
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