There’s a Peanuts cartoon (wish I could find it), in which Charlie Brown says, “I’ve watched this movie 29 times, and Shane never comes back.”
I feel the exact same way about Prince Andrey Bolkonsky in War and Peace. Recently, I did a freelance project (a Cliff Notes type thing) for W&P, and so I read it for the fourth and most deliberate time (though not the most painful–that would be the time I had to do it in Russian). And I’ve watched some of the film adaptations–some of which are harder to get through than a 560,000 word novel.
And every time, I keep hoping that Andrey won’t die and leave everyone else to sink into mediocrity. But he always does, and they always do. When he dies, his transcendent vision of the infinite sky expires with him.
I may post some excerpts of my project here. It really is an amazing book, all hype aside.
In looking for images for this post, I found the various interpretations of Andrey to be fascinating:
First, an illustration by Valentin Serov:
Then, Mel Ferrer, 1956 USA version:
That is a terrible, terrible blond toupee.
Daniel Massey, 1963 UK version:
I can’t find a bigger photo, or any footage of this…
Vyacheslav Tikhonov, 1965ish USSR version:
Good casting. Bondarchuk almost redeems himself for casting that sweaty old guy (himself) to play Pierre. Oh wait, no, it doesn’t at all.
Oh hai Napoleon.
And then, my friends, we have Alan Dobie in the 1973 UK miniseries (with Sir Anthony Hopkins as Pierre):
Nathan Gunn, French opera production, 2000:
Alessio Boni, 2007 miniseries by multiple European countries:
James Norton, 2016 BBC adaptation:
“So insignificant at that moment seemed to him all the interests that engrossed Napoleon, so mean did his hero himself with his paltry vanity and joy in victory appear, compared to the lofty, equitable, and kindly sky which he had seen and understood, that he could not answer him.
“Everything seemed so futile and insignificant in comparison with the stern and solemn train of thought that weakness from loss of blood, suffering, and the nearness of death aroused in him. Looking into Napoleon’s eyes Prince Andrew thought of the insignificance of greatness, the unimportance of life which no one could understand, and the still greater unimportance of death, the meaning of which no one alive could understand or explain.”
–Lev Tolstoy, War and Peace