Lights, Camera..., History!, I had heard about and followed some of the production of The Last Station, a play to film about Leo Tolstoy. With cast members like Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren, and James McAvoy, I knew the film would have great acting power behind it. I didn't get a chance to see it in the theater, but did finally view it on DVD and have had a lot to think about ever since.
Synopsis: The premise of the film was the last days of Leo Tolstoy (famous author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina), played by Christopher Plummer. During the last days of his life, and under the high regard of his followers in his movement, Tolstoy has turned his back on his privilege and money and been pressured to sign over the rights to his writing, to his movement. His wife, played by Helen Mirren, vehemently fought these endeavors, and in that fight had to constantly remind her philosophical, "saint" of a husband, of her passionate love for him. Her constant efforts all seemed to be in an effort to keep her husband grounded in their life together, and their family, all whilst he has been built up by everyone around him.
As a side story, James McAvoy's character was assigned as a secretary to Tolstoy, and as such, asked to record everything said by the movement's revered leader. In this role, he was expected to stay celibate, which is severely tested when he meets a beautiful young woman in the movement. Both Tolstoy's passionate and tempestuous relationship, along with his secretary's, serve to ask serious questions about love and what is important in a person's life.
Review: There were moments throughout this film that I felt bored by the dialogue, paranoia, and drama. At times I felt confused by the interjection of high drama next to light moments of love and romance. However, the acting really did carry it through. The film was dramatic in all the best ways, that although slow in the middle, with a fairly gratuitous sex scene that had me a little uncomfortable, did actually lead up to a very dramatic ending that leaves the viewer thinking about the message.
Each of the characters did an amazing job in their roles, drawing out the dedication and passion that all felt for and about Tolstoy and his ideals. You really did get a sense of the hope that his philosophy offered, but in our modern context, I couldn't help but see the ways such a social structure would also fall apart. I think it is because of the juxtaposition of the philosophy, with the viewers' modern sensibilities that we see why Tolstoy's wife felt so passionately about breaking through to her husband and having access to him in the way a wife should.
The final scene, which really should come as no surprise, is the final moments of Tolstoy's life. Watching his wife say her final goodbyes spoke volumes to the power of real intimacy, regardless of power or position. Regardless of Tolstoy's impact on society or even his movement, the real sense of the man came from those who knew and love him most. I felt that these scenes were absolutely powerful and moving, although hard fought for after a slow moving mid section of the film. I would definitely recommend the film for its message and great acting, but will admit that some of the film was a bit drawn out. If you like philosophical, period dramas, then I would recommend this film