THE LAST STATION ****



LEO TOLSTOY was an extraordinary Russian writer.

He completed two masterpieces before his death in 1910 at the age of 82: WAR & PEACE and ANNA KARENINA.

But he was also incredibly eccentric.

TOLSTOY (CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER) had been born into nobility. With his great novels, he received fame and even more wealth. As he neared the end of his existence on earth, he declared that he wanted to renounce all of his worldly goods, give everything away (including the copyrights on his work) and live the life of a simple chaste peasant.

He felt that everyone would benefit from such a humble state of mind.

Tolstoy decided to recruit an advisor that would help him popularize his world view. (His far flung ideas would eventually get him excommunicated from the church.)

He decided on VLADIMIR CHERTKOV (PAUL GIAMATTI). The two men became close friends and constantly planned and plotted at Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy’s aristocratic estate.

For the band of eager Tolstoyans that came to the countryside to immerse themselves in the master’s teachings, the only stumbling block was the celibacy portion. Not everyone was capable of rising to that moralistic challenge.

Enter VALENTIN BULGAROV (JAMES McAVOY), who is hired by Chertkov to be Tolstoy’s personal secretary.

Valentin is a sweet natured, naive idealist. He is high minded and extremely sensitive. Valentin doesn’t blink an eye when the opportunistic Chertkov (who has actually positioned him as a spy) tells him to report back on all the activities at the house and to write everything down.

Innocence in a man can be endlessly intriguing. (Just the attitude. It doesn’t have to be an actual physical state.) It draws many women in like a magnet.

Valentin immediately attracts the attention of the tempestuous free thinking MASHA (KERRY CONDON). She’s obviously not cut out to be an ideal Tolstoyan. But Valentin is much too tempting to ignore.

Even more turmoil is on the horizon…

Tolstoy’s wife is so upset with his latest anarchic ambitions that she can barely contain herself.

The COUNTESS SOFYA ANDREEVNA (HELEN MIRREN) is a gorgeous, intelligent, regal woman whose strength is exceeded only by her stylishness.

She has loved Tolstoy for nearly 50 years. Sofya knows all about his many and varied idiosyncrasies.

On the eve of their wedding, he presented her with his diaries. He wanted her to read all about his wild untamed past (sexual exploits included).

She was 19. She married him anyway.

But this newest nonsense is more than she can bear…

Sofya is used to a life of luxury. As far as she’s concerned, she’s earned it. She was always an equal partner in their relationship – acting as Tolstoy’s assistant, proofreading his manuscripts, offering suggestions, taking care of their finances.

Now he wants to throw away everything that they’ve worked for. She has not the slightest desire to live in poverty. Even if he does. They also have children that must be considered.

Plus this celibacy kick is working on her last nerve. Sofya is a powerfully sensual creature.

All of this is totally ridiculous. But no sex is the final unacceptable outrage.

The Countess is a compelling and charismatic personality. She should’ve been on the stage where her drama queen tendencies could flower effectively.

Sofya loathes Chertkov. To her, he’s lower than the devil. She’s actually right. He is the cause of all of the current difficulties in her marriage.

The Countess won’t give up without a fight…and she is one formidable opponent. She decides to seek Valentin’s help to undermine Chertkov’s authority.

But Chertkov has more than a few tricks up his sleeve. He’s aware that Tolstoy may not have much time left…and he’s determined to have him out of that house (with everything settled to his satisfaction) before the train pulls into the last station.

This film is an adaptation of the novel by JAY PARINI. Director MICHAEL HOFFMAN wrote the screenplay. He does an excellent job in both respects.

There are a variety of tones that underline the various scenes. The serious parts are undoubtedly and appropriately somber. But much of the film has a wry, satirical feel that suits the material splendidly. All of this is executed flawlessly.

The cinematography is breathtaking. There are plentiful meadows and lush emerald forests. The film is filled with natural beauty in all of its extremes.

This production was designed by the legendary PATRIZIA VON BRANDENSTEIN. Every detail is stunningly faithful to the era.

Helen Mirren’s wardrobe is particularly glorious. All of the costumes are fantastic.

The score is wonderfully authentic. But the acting is absolutely superb.

ANNE MARIE DUFF (Mr. McAvoy’s real life spouse, who plays Leo and Sofya’s daughter SASHA)and KERRY CONDON are all terrific.

CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER is magnificent as the highly contradictory, impishly gregarious LEO TOLSTOY.

JAMES McAVOY is the perfect combination of resilience, decency and true gentlemanly goodness. He is amazingly soulful.

But HELEN MIRREN is an unstoppable force of nature as the COUNTESS SOFYA.

She is fabulous: shrewd, wicked, manipulative, passionate and incendiary.

In a long distinguished career of unfettered brilliance, this is clearly one of the best performances that she’s ever given.

THE LAST STATION could have been the kind of artistic enterprise that you see because you feel that you should. It’s just like eating your vegetables.

But it’s far from your usual dull as dishwater romantic period dramedy. It’s a rich, vivid experience that’s an exceptional good time.

Treats this delicious come around rather infrequently these days. You have to savour them when you find them.

2 Responses to “THE LAST STATION ****”

  1. nice review…

    yeah this doesn’t look as bad as the usual period film stuff. lord or whomever the lack of period/auto/bio stuff doing much box office/awards this year will slow things down. there must be 80 films a years doing that sort of stuff…. 🙂

    now ms. m. what element does this have that most period/auto/bio stuff don’t have and they fail ???

    yes m. the key to this films success is tolstoy’s vow of celibacy.

    if more period films had all the lead characters take a vow of celibacy they’d be much better films.

    i want to read about how the actors prepared for this element of the film. yes i want to hear about weeks of preparation/transformation…

    now we can find out who is really dedicated to their craft.

    you’re poor and chandeliers are never your friend.

    yeah…

  2. Thanks for the kind words, baby.

    Well now…

    Tolstoy not only takes a vow of celibacy but Valentin is still a virgin at the age of 23. When Masha fixes her eyes on him, watch out.

    She can not be denied.

    Suffice to say that Tolstoy and Valentin both end up with the sweet end of the lollipop. But it takes quite a while for their respective situations to get wild.

    TLS is quite a clever, witty film. It’s not dry and boring like a lot of period jazz. I don’t know if it would be to your taste, glimster. But we do like a lot of the same stuff…and I really enjoyed it.

    Maybe when it comes to Houston (if it’s not there all ready), you should give it a chance.

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