Since its debut at the beginning of February, the Netflix-hosted miniseries House of Cards has garnered a growing amount of attention from both audiences and critics. Scripter Andrew Davies has received accolades for his canny adaptation of his own 1990 screenplay produced by the BBC.
Davies will soon see even more of the spotlight, as BBC has tapped him to create a television screenplay from what some consider the mother of all literary classics: Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Yesterday, the BBC announced that its BBC Wales division will produce a new, six-part miniseries to be aired in 2015. Davies will apparently script the series in its entirety. In addition to both versions of House of Cards, Davies is known for his work on well-liked miniseries adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Bleak House, and Little Dorrit.
For the uninitiated, War and Peace was originally written by Leo Tolstoy as a serialized novel in the mid-1870s. The sprawling work clocks in at over 1,200 pages, following five noble Russian families through the opening of the 19th century and into the turbulent chaos of the Napoleonic Wars. Its two main characters – Natasha Rostova and Pierre Bezhukov – will no doubt be big casting draws as the miniseries approaches production.
As one of the most well-known and beloved pieces of literature in history, this will naturally not be the first adaptation of War and Peace. Nor will it be the first adaptation to be released by BBC – a previous miniseries adaptation of the novel starred Anthony Hopkins (RED 2) and aired in 1972. Other filmed versions War and Peace have starred Aubrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffany’s), Henry Fonda (Once Upon a Time in the West), Clémence Poésy (the Harry Potter series), and Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange). A Soviet-produced adaptation of the novel ran eight hours and featured what is still considered the largest battle scene ever filmed.
As a man known for writing elegant and well-appreciated adaptations of classic novels, it’s nigh-impossible to argue with BBC’s choice of Davies to pen War and Peace. The question thus becomes whether the world actually wants (or needs) another version of a work that has already seen several high-profile adaptations. After all, War and Peace is known by most of the public only for its intimidating length and dauntingly complex cast of characters.
That said, the timing may be exactly right for another visit to Tsar Alexander’s Russia. Audiences have warmed to large-scale costume dramas in recent years, flocking to shows with extensive casts such as Downton Abbey, Mad Men, and Game of Thrones. BBC clearly wants War and Peace to be big-budget event television in the tradition of its previous, respected literary miniseries. With advances in filming technology and what will hopefully be a sharp script from Andrew Davies, BBC may be shooting for War and Peace to be the most definitive adaptation yet.
War and Peace is set to air on BBC One in 2015, no doubt with a close (or even simultaneous) airing on BBC America.