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First Look: James Norton, Lily James, Paul Dano and Gillian Anderson in War and Peace #book2movie

I first shared these images from the BBC production of War & Peace this past August. Now I’ve learned that instead of watching the ‘limited series’ on PBS/Masterpiece as you might have expected (I did!) here in the states we’ll be seeing it on Lifetime, A&E and/or the History channel in January of 2016. I’m not sure how that works, pick one? Simulcast? 

Watching her ‘polyamorous’ performance in The Fall with Jamie Dornan—catch up on Netflix—I am super-psyched to see Gillian Anderson as Anna Pavlovna. 

Lily James, as we English period drama fans know, hails from Downton Abbey and is one of the newer next big things. James Norton is the handsome Brit you might have watched in Grantchester; he was phenomenal as a psycho in Happy Valley. Paul Dano was most recently the young Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy; I first noticed him as the suicidal son in Little Miss Sunshine.

 Prince Andrei (James Norton) in War and Peace. Photograph: Laurie Sparham/BBC/Laurie Sparham

Looking good

The BBC recently released the first images of the three stars of the upcoming series based on Tolstoy's War & Peace:  James Norton—fresh from the pages of Grantchester as Prince Bolkonsky, Lily James out of the Abbey at Downton as Natasha Rostov and Paul Dano, in a surprising casting move that takes him from playing Beach Boy Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy to Bezukhov. Gillian Anderson, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Rea and Rebecca Front also star.

Natasha Rostov (Lily James) in War and Peace. 

Photograph: Laurie Sparham/BBC/Laurie Sparham

You can always use it as a doorstop

I know some of you are out there busily rereading Tolstoy’s classic. The BBC series hits BBC-1 this winter, arriving in the US sometime shortly thereafter. The book is 1273 pages, plus or minus, depending on what edition you're reading. One thousand, two hundred and seventy-three pages. Just scrolling through the chapter headings on the Guttenberg project gives me a headache, but yes, the good news is that Tolstoy's classic is available to read for free there. Page for page, that's a great value!

Natasha Rostov (Lily James) in War and Peace. Photograph: Laurie Sparham/BBC/Laurie Sparham

Or you can read it online

Here's the link, should you be so inclined. Call me intellectually lazy if you will, but I just don't think I can do it. Although I do admit reading these opening paragraphs does increase my desire to see Gillian Anderson as Anna Pavlovna as well as Stephen Rea as Prince Vassily Kuragin! Go ahead, give this opening section a read, how does it grab you? Let me know in the comments section below.

Pierre Bezukhov (Paul Dano) in War and Peace. 
Photograph: Laurie Sparham/BBC/Laurie Sparham

A classic beginning ...

BOOK ONE: 1805

"Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes. But I warn you, if you don't tell me that this means war, if you still try to defend the infamies and horrors perpetrated by that Antichrist—I really believe he is Antichrist—I will have nothing more to do with you and you are no longer my friend, no longer my 'faithful slave,' as you call yourself! But how do you do? I see I have frightened you—sit down and tell me all the news."
It was in July, 1805, and the speaker was the well-known Anna Pavlovna Scherer, maid of honor and favorite of the Empress Marya Fedorovna. With these words she greeted Prince Vasili Kuragin, a man of high rank and importance, who was the first to arrive at her reception. 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. Petersburg, 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 Scherer."
"Heavens! what a virulent attack!" replied the prince, not in the least disconcerted by this reception. He had just entered, wearing an embroidered court uniform, knee breeches, and shoes, and had stars on his breast and a serene expression on his flat face. He spoke in that refined French in which our grandfathers not only spoke but thought, and with the gentle, patronizing intonation natural to a man of importance who had grown old in society and at court. He went up to Anna Pavlovna, kissed her hand, presenting to her his bald, scented, and shining head, and complacently seated himself on the sofa.
"First of all, dear friend, tell me how you are. Set your friend's mind at rest," said he without altering his tone, beneath the politeness and affected sympathy of which indifference and even irony could be discerned.
"Can one be well while suffering morally? Can one be calm in times like these if one has any feeling?" said Anna Pavlovna. "You are staying the whole evening, I hope?"
"And the fete at the English ambassador's? Today is Wednesday. I must put in an appearance there," said the prince. "My daughter is coming for me to take me there."
"I thought today's fete had been canceled. I confess all these festivities and fireworks are becoming wearisome."
"If they had known that you wished it, the entertainment would have been put off," said the prince, who, like a wound-up clock, by force of habit said things he did not even wish to be believed.
"Don't tease! Well, and what has been decided about Novosiltsev's dispatch? You know everything."
"What can one say about it?" replied the prince in a cold, listless tone. "What has been decided? They have decided that Buonaparte has burnt his boats, and I believe that we are ready to burn ours."
Prince Vasili always spoke languidly, like an actor repeating a stale part. Anna Pavlovna Scherer 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.
So? Are you going to read —re-read— Tolstoys classic first?