To me there is no doubt. War and Peace is the best and most important work of fiction ever written, encompassing the whole of human existence, from the most petty of concerns to the sweep of an epoch in an enthralling, achingly human story. We fall in love with the characters, whether Pierre's familiar frailties and big-hearted foolhardiness, Andrei's intelligence, stoicism and brooding passion, Natasha's ever-optimistic celebration of life and humanity.
The BBC's 1972 adaptation is somewhat dated, it is true. The flow of dialogue and camera work creaks. Some of the minor actors are stilted and hard to believe. Modern technology, CGI and the rest leave us dissatisfied with the battle scenes. It is also, unavoidably, rather British. Only the written word or a Russian production can convey the Russian-ness of this wonderful work. Russia itself is the only important character left out. Nevertheless, it was and remains an inspired and majestic production - more faithful to the original work, at least in extent, than any other I know of.
I still believe Anthony Hopkin's portrayal of Pierre is quite marvellous - surely the best thing he has done in all his career. He is the Pierre of one's imagination. Andrei, Nikolai, Maria, Natasha, Sonya are all pretty true to the book. Above all, this production is engaging, as gripping and addictive as any thriller. We want to know what happens next and feel bereft of the characters' lives when we come to the end.
This specific set was collated and published through a Dutch company. The DVD cover is in Dutch and there are Dutch subtitles (no English or other language subtitles are an option), which can of course be turned off. The colour is OK but with a hint of the murkiness of early 70s TV. The sound track is good.