The thought of a movie about the last days of Lev Nikolayevich “Leo” Tolstoy, the author of literary classics “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina,” might not sound like the most exciting way to spend one’s time, but in the hands of filmmaker Michael Hoffman and with explosive performances by Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren as the Tolstoys, The Last Station may be the most entertaining historical biopic in recent memory.
The film stars James McAvoy as 23-year-old Valentin Bulgakov, a celibate idealist brought into the Tolstoy camp as the writer’s secretary by his sycophantic right hand man Chertkov (played by Paul Giamatti) where he gets caught in the Tolstoy’s tumultuous marriage and a power struggle between Chertkov and Tolstoy’s wife Sofya (Mirren). He also falls for his fellow “comrade” Masha (Kerry Condon), a relationship that goes against many of Valentin’s beliefs as a Tolstoyan.
As much as the story is told through the eyes of McAvoy’s character, very similar to Kevin McDonald’s The Last King of Scotland in fact, it’s Christopher Plummer who really blows the roof off this film with his performance as Tolstoy, and he’s evenly matched beat-for-beat with the always terrific Mirren, who takes the word “drama queen” to a new level with her performance as The Countess. It’s not that surprising to anyone who has seen the film why they both have received a number of awards nominations, including Golden Globes and from their compatriots in the Screen Actors Guild.
It’s all pulled together by Hoffman, a director best known for his 1999 screen adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, who figured out a way to intertwine the two stories in a way that makes Russian history palatable even for the most casual moviegoer.
A few weeks back, even before the Golden Globe nominations, ComingSoon.net sat down with Hoffman for this exclusive video interview, and here’s some of the stuff we talked about in our lively conversation:
* The origins of the project and why he wanted to adapt the book
* How he went about doing the adaptation
* Coming up with Plummer and Mirren to play the Tolstoys
* How much of this was taken from actual history
* Hoffman’s research and reading many of the existing diaries from the times
* How Tolstoy had his every move being documented at the times
* How hard it was getting the film financed
* Talking about the music and the film’s Russian composer
* Balancing the tone of the movie
* And more!
Hopefully, you’ve already read our interview with Christopher Plummer, but if not, you can read that here.
The Last Station opens in New York and L.A. on Friday, January 15.