Star rating – 6/10
I confess I am a bit of a sucker for a costume drama – and this film depicting the last days in the life of Count Leo Tolstoy definitely falls into that category. Christopher Plummer plays the distinguished writer who, in his later days, becomes committed to the cause of anti materialism, celibacy, and vegetarianism.
Helen Mirren is outstanding as his dramatic wife, the Countess, who is so fiery by nature that he declares during one of their many heated arguments ‘You don’t need a husband, you need a Greek chorus.’ Now that is a great line. She is no stranger to the dramatic one liners either, as she threatens to go to the nearest station to kill herself on the tracks, like his great heroine Anna Karenina.
I don’t know if the story of Tolstoy trying to turn his estate over to the Russian people by changing his will, at the expense of his family, spurred on by his distasteful followers, is true. But if it is, I am not sure it is the best subject matter for a feature film. The plot is a bit too saccharine sweet to be truly engaging. And the counterpoint romance to the volatile relationship of the Count and Countess, that of the young secretary, played by James McEvoy and the worldly wise Marsha, feels contrived.
But Mirren’s acting is undeniably impressive, hence the Oscar nomination. And I do like a beautiful woman who knows how to smash a plate or two in a fury.