Week 2: War & Peace. The Book and Film Adaptations


I read War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy when I was about 14 - a year or two before it would be a part of our mandatory Literature program at school. Then I re-read it again and again. For many years, War & Peace was my favourite book and I grew to love Natasha Rostova (I used to strongly relate to her, even though I did not like her much per se),  sympathise with Andrei Bolkonsky, and even feel sorry for the beautiful, but devious, Helen Kuragina.

There have been many film adaptations of Tolstoy's epic masterpiece, and I was actually very impressed with the latest effort: 2016’s 'War & Peace' BBC series starring Lilly James (love her!). The series was definitely a huge success and piqued people’s interest in the story of the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys. 

The ad for   War & Peace   (2016) series I spotted on the  Times Square, NYC

The ad for War & Peace (2016) series I spotted on the Times Square, NYC

So as you have already guessed, I want to dedicate this Theme of the Week to 'War & Peace’ and specifically to its main female protagonist: Natasha Rostova!

Let's have a look at the film adaptations of War & Peace, the actors and actresses who played major roles in them and compare them to the characters depicted in the book by Leo Tolstoy.

All actresses as Natasha Rostova in War and Peace.

First movie adaptation was a silent 1915 Russian version starring a ballerina Vera Karalli as Natasha Rostova. Tolstoy described Natasha as “black-eyed, wide-mouthed girl, not pretty but full of life...”, and Vera Karalli does fit the description. However, my favourite Natasha is Audrey Hepburn. She is gorgeous, yet has a very unique look.

Actors who played Andrei Bolkonsky in War & Peace.  Актеры сыгравшие Андрея Болконского и Ростову в фильме Война и Мир

Helen Kuragina is the only character in the War & Peace that is described as exceptionally physically beautiful, although she is an ultimate female antagonist. Making a negative character so easy on the eyes was unlikely in the Russian literature of that times. Here is the little quote about Helen from the book:

Napoleon himself had noticed her [Helen] in the theater and said of her: "C'est un superbe animal." Her success as a beautiful and elegant woman did not surprise Pierre, for she had become even handsomer than before".

All actresses who played the role of Helen Kuragina in War and Peace. Все актрисы сыгравшие роль Эллен Курагиной в романе Льва Толстого Война и Мир

It is interesting to note that with every passing adaptation, Helen Kuragina looks thinner and thinner! From curvaceous Anita Ekberg to skinny and fair Middleton, Kuragina's character has been depicted according to beauty standards of the times films have been created.

I personally enjoy watching Anita Ekberg's and Fiona Gaunt's acting as Helen Kuragina, however find Irina Skobtceva in Sergei Bondarchuk's Oscar winning adaptation absolutely inappropriate. Irina was almost 40 when she played the role of the young and stunning Kuragina. How such miscast could happen? Well, did you know that Irina Skobtceva was film director Sergei Bondarchuk's wife at the time? That explains a lot, doesn't it? :)


Do you enjoy posts like this one? Let me know in the comments section below or via email: ulya.aliyeva@gmail.com

P.S. Don't forget to come back to the blog as I will pastiche fashion looks of Natasha Rostova this week!