“ Anna Pavlovna had had a cough for some days. She was, as she said, suffering from la grippe; grippe being then a new word in St. Petersberg, used only by the elite.
All her invitations without exception, written in French, and delivered by a scarlet-liveried footman that morning, ran as follows:
“If you have nothing better to do, Count (or Prince) and if the prospect of spending an evening with a poor invalid is not too terrible, I shall be very charmed to see you tonight between 7 and 10—Annette Sherer.”
page 5, War and Peace
Gillian Anderson hasn’t done a whole lot of talking about playing Anna Pavlovna Scherer in War and Peace*. I suspect it’s because most people are just too interested in the prospect of seeing Anderson back as Dana Scully in the upcoming X-Files reunion series. And the truth is, War and Peace revolves around the three young leads; Lily James as Natasha Rostova, Paul Dano as Pierre Bezukhov and James Norton as Prince Andrei Bolkonsky.
As a fan of The Fall in which Anderson plays a sexually-uninhibited, high-powered British detective on the hunt for a serial killer, I wish she had a larger part to play in War and Peace but it looks like she may just be in the first episode of the mini-series. As Anna, Anderson gets the whole story started. The social climbing spinster hosts a soiree where we get to meet quite a few of the players in Tolstoy’s classic saga including the scheming Prince Vasili Kuragin (Stephen Rea) father to Anatol (Callum Turner) and Helene (Tuppence Middleton). It looks like Kuragins eldest son Hippolyte is kept off screen.
“Prince Vasili always spoke languidly, like an actor repeating a stale part. Anna Pavlovna Schemer on the contrary, despite her forty years, overflowed with animation and impulsiveness. To be an enthusiast had become her social vocation and, sometimes even when she did not feel like it, she became enthusiastic in order not to disappoint the expectations of those who knew her. The subdued smile which, though it did not suit her faded features, always played round her lips expressed, as in a spoiled child, a continual consciousness of her charming defect, which she neither wished, nor could, nor considered it necessary to correct.” page 6, War and Peace
“Despite her forty years.” Truly, in 1805 when Tolstoy’s novel begins, a woman would be washed up at forty. It’s hard for our modern sensibilities to absorb that fact. That a woman of forty would be noted for having ‘faded features’ is such a stark contrast to the Forty and Fabulous! magazine headlines in celebration of the ‘older’ women that came into their own in the last part of the 20th century. Women, over forty, who like the real Gillian Anderson at forty-seven, are anything but faded. Rather, they’re heralded for being as bold as they are beautiful, as smart and savvy as they are sexy, and as accomplished as any of the old boys in the old boys network. The only thing they aren’t, is paid quite so well.
Tolstoy is such a critical observer of people—although, remember he too was writing ‘historical fiction’ as the book begins fifty years before he authored it—were he living today, I feel sure that he’d be a feminist and come out on the side of gender equality and pay equity. In 1805, all the machinations of the characters to marry off their children well are part and parcel of their survival. In many ways, War and Peace isn’t unlike a Jane Austen novel. The setting may be St. Petersberg, the characters may the Russian aristocracy, but the social world and its concerns, are very much the same.
This is my first time reading Tolstoy’s classic and rather than finding it dull—although some of the battle scenes are a bit plodding what with all the soldiers marching in columns—I’m finding Tolstoy’s astute insights surprisingly funny, and the characters a rich mix of personalities that I’m enjoying getting to know. How about you?
* Thanks to @Astridafn I do have an interview with Gillian Anderson on playing Anna Palvovna Scherer with you. Here it is, in its entirety, from the BBC site.
Had you read War & Peace before you took on the role?
I’ve had the book in my iBooks for a long time, I decided one day to download it, but I had never read it before starting to work on this. Because I’d heard daunting things said about the novel I approached it with a certain amount of reverence and fear and actually have been pleasantly surprised that it’s incredibly readable and interesting. It’s also fascinating about real history and I feel like I’ve learnt quite a lot from it that I didn’t know.
Tom (Harper) is encouraging people to study the original and to use it to further delve in to characteristics of their character.
Tell us about this adaptation…
One of the things that Andrew is particularly good at is keeping the bulk of text and maintaining many of the characters. Andrew’s always reverential, he has a great respect for the pieces he takes on and you can absorb that from the text.
Even though the story is set in the 1800s, there’s still war and love, romance and betrayal running through it. It’s the same as with Shakespeare and other great novels in history, they stand up because they are about relatable subjects. War & Peace is chock full of relatable subjects. There’s also an extraordinary cast of young, very attractive and talented actors.
Tell us about Anna Pavlovna…
Anna Pavlovna is a socialite and holds salons during the course of the tale of War & Peace. A good deal of the action takes place at these salons, particularly matchmaking and politics with a small p. I like her brazenness and cheekiness, throwing balls, matchmaking and always with something to say.
What attracted you to the role?
The chance to work on a piece like War & Peace is extraordinary in itself. Having it made by the BBC and The Weinstein Company, Andrew Davies doing the adaptation and the cast that came together, plus the fact that my role happened to fit exactly in my schedule, was a very big part of it. Also being able to pop to St Petersburg for a few days of history and fun with fellow actors, and to get to work with Tom Harper, all of that really. It was fun.