War and Peace (1956)




Director:     King Vidor.





Based on Tolstoy's novel, this movie is a lot like Gone with the Wind, except it is a lot more saccharine-like and only hints at the reconstruction period. The war here is the Napoleonic War and specifically the invasion of Russia (compared to Sherman's march into Atlanta). The good way of life of Russia was based on serfdom (as opposed to slavery in GWW). This good life is disturbed by the coming of war. A big difference is, however, that Napoleon lost while Sherman won. There are many characters as in GWW with many twists of fate. What really helps in following the film is to get a good handle on who are the characters. To help with this:

Rostov family:

Count Ilya Rostov (Barry Jones) -- the father

Countess Rostov (Lea Seidle)-- the mother

Natasha Rostov (Audrey Hepburn) -- our heroine

Nikolai Rostov (Jeremy Brett)  -- the elder brother

Petya Rostov (Sean Barrett)  -- the younger brother

Sonya Rostov (May Britt)  -- their cousin


Bezukhov/Kuragin family:

Count Bezukhov (Barry Jones)-- the father

Pierre Bezukhov (Henry Fonda) -- our hero

Princess Helene Kuragin (Anita Ekberg) -- Fonda's wife

Prince Vasilliy Kuragin (Tullio Carminati)  -- the father-in-law

Anatole Kuragin (Vittorio Gassman)  -- brother-in-law


Bolkonsky family:

Andrei Bolkonsky (Mel Ferrar) --

Prince Bolkonsky  (Wilfred Lawson)

Princess Liza Bolkonskay  (Milly Vitale)  -- wife of Mel Ferrar

Princess Maria (Anna-Maria Ferrero)  -- the sister of Mel Ferrar


Napoleon (Herbert Lom)

Gen. Kutuzov (Oskar Homolka)

Dolokhov (Helmut Dantine)

Denisov (Patrick Crean)

Peronskava (Gertrude Flynn)

Platon Karatsev (John Mills)


It's too bad that all the main characters are so whimpy. They all need a little of Scarlet's fire. Hepburn is just too nice, Fonda is too whimpy until he grows up a bit, and Ferrar looks too much like Ashley Wilkes to have us believe he was an officer in the Russian army who had seen lots of action -- in a way, he is too "pretty". Be that as it may, it is interesting to follow the history in this film while watching it through the eyes of the characters in the film.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



Historical Background:

1796  --  death of Catherine the Great who had ruled Russia starting from 1762.

1762-1801  --  her son Paul ruled.

1801-1825  --  Alexander I ruled.  Alexander succeeded to the throne after his father was murdered.

1807--  indecisive Battle of Eylau between French under Napoleon and Russia-Prussia.

1807 (June 13-14)  --  Russians routed at Battle of Friedland. 

1807 (June 25)  --  at Tilsit, Alexander agreed with Napoleon to share in the division of Europe. 

1808 (October)  --  another meeting between Alexander and Napoleon, this time at Erfurt in central Germany.  Alexander continued his alliance with Napoleon but began to see the Frenchman's own selfish motives in making an alliance with Russia. 

1809  -- Russian annexation of Finland from Sweden.  The Russians helped France a little in the struggle against Austria. 

1810 (January 4)  --  Napoleon publicly agreed that Poland would not be restored and on January 4 signed a convention abolishing the name of Poland.  To test the loyalty of Alexander, Napoleon declared his intention to marry the Tsar's younger sister.  Alexander refused and Napoleon refused to ratify the Polish convention. Napoleon then announced he would marry Archduchess Marie Louise.  This was the start of a sharp decline in the relationship between Napoleon and Alexander.

1810 (December)  --  France annexed Oldenburg to itself.  This made Alexander very mad because the Duke of Oldenburg was the Tsar's uncle.

1812   --  Napoleon attacks Russia.  In June, Napoleon's Grande Armée of 691,500 men crossed the river Neman and headed towards Moscow.

1812  (August 16-18)  --  indecisive clash at Smolensk. 

1812 (September 7)  --  the Battle of Borodino was the bloodiest single day of battle in the Napoleonic Wars. The Russian army under Gen. Mikhail Kutuzov was defeated at heavy cost by Napoleon 70 miles west of Moscow. Napoleon entered Moscow a week later. 

1812 (September 14-18)  --  fires rage through Moscow burning it almost completely to the ground.  Napoleon was forced to retreat. 

1812 (early December)  -- Napoleon learned that General Claude de Malet had attempted a coup d'etat in France.  Napoleon had to leave for France.  Marshal Joachim Murat was left in charge of the remains of the French army. 

1812 (December 14)  --  French pushed out of Russia. 



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