The Countess Sofya, wife and muse to Leo Tolstoy, uses every trick of seduction on her husband's loyal disciple, whom she believes was the person responsible for Tolstoy signing a new will that leaves his work and property to the Russian people. Written by
The Last Station is described as a melodrama - and I would say that's a fair description. It's the kind of film they don't really make any more. The spirit of David Lean lives on. It's beautiful to look at, for a start, and the music is genuinely incidental, lushing away in the background. We all know that Leo Tolstoy wrote a book, although few of us have the nerve to actually sit down and get to grips with War And Peace. But there was more to the great man than that - in his time he was regarded as godlike, and enjoyed a fairly big cult following, the Tolstoyan Movement, devoted to goodness, purity and equality - as long as it didn't mean the end of the deferential lower classes.
Tolstoy's young secretary Valentin is dropped into this, at the deep end. The 19th century Russian hippies, the fanatically devious disciple Chertkov who wants the great man to sign away the rights to his work, to the Russian People; the hard-pressed but manipulative wife determined to keep it in the family. And the girl who introduces the young man to the pleasures of the flesh. It's a great cast, headed by the unrecognisable Christopher Plummer, and the always marvelous Helen Mirren. The constant undertone in Tolstoy's saga is the disparity between his wish for a good life for the peasants, and the sight of those peasants beavering away in the background while the upper classes get on with their lives of pampered angst.
It's the growing struggle between the disciple and the wife, with the secretary pulled between new and conflicting loyalties, that will grab your attention. You really will care about these people. And what follows is the melodrama. I will say no more, except that it's a big story, told big. Just what Norma Desmond told us we had lost.
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