“Everything I know, I know because of love.”
These are the words Leo Tolstoy wrote in his universally acknowledged masterpiece, War and Peace. One would not expect its author to have lived his final years in a war over philosophy and copyright issues, as portrayed in The Last Station.
In a classic tale of romance and emotional struggle, director Michael Hoffman recreates the final chapter of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy’s life, one that has historically been left on the editing floor, until now.
Married fifty years to his devoted wife, the Countess Sophya (Helen Mirren), their relationship is suddenly put to the test as a rift sprouts between them, sparking drama in their household.
The rift is caused by Tolstoy’s (Christopher Plummer) new philosophy and free-flowing outlook on life, leading him to leave the rights to his life’s work to the Russian people, and not his wife.
Plummer, who received a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Tolstoy, delivers a good performance, nailing the required emotions as an ailing writer lost in the middle of a marital fight.
Mirren, who received a best actress Oscar nod, gives an outstanding performance as an outraged wife who no longer understands her husband. Her acting is both moving and entertaining, as her emotions shift constantly from love to anger throughout the movie. Convinced that her husband’s disciple Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) is the cause of all her problems, she sets out to fight him for the rights to her husband’s novels, and his wealth. Giamatti’s performance livens up the screen as he engages in fiery battles with the countess.
Tolstoy’s daughter Sasha (Anne-Marie Duff) is completely devoted to him and supports his decision. Siding with her father and refusing to help Sophya with the copyright dispute, only worsens her dwindling relationship with her mother. Duff, without a strong role to play on, gives a merely acceptable performance.
In the middle of this dramatic tale comes Tolstoy’s new assistant. Young and idealistic Valentin (James McAvoy) is quickly caught between the Countess and Chertkov. A romance flourishes between Valentin and the spirited teacher Masha (Kerry Condon), who is among Tolstoy’s supporters. When one of Tolstoy’s disciples fires her in an attempt to drive the two apart, Valentin is then torn between his devotion to his boss, and his love for the beautiful Masha.
McAvoy’s performance is remarkable, beginning as a nervous and naive young man and naturally maturing as the film progressed. His performance is a standout amongst a star-studded, Oscar-worthy cast.
The Last Station is a gripping tale of the challenges that a person faces in love, and should not be missed this awards season.
The Last Station opens in select Montreal theatres on Feb. 12.