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Tom Burke as Dolokhov: ‘War and Peace’ Character of the Day

Dolokhov was of medium height, with curly hair and light blue eyes. He was about twenty-five. Like all infantry officers he wore no mustache, so that his mouth, the most striking feature on his face, was clearly seen. The lines of that mouth were remarkably finely curved. The middle of the upper lip formed a sharp wedge and closed firmly on the firm lower one, and something like two distinct smiles played continually round the the two corner of the mouth; this together with the resolute, insolent intelligence of his eyes, produced an effect which made it impossible not to notice his face. Dolokhov was a small man of small means and no connections. Yet, though Anatole spent tens of thousands of rubles, Dolokhov lived with him and had placed himself on such a footing that all who knew them, including Anatole himself, respected him more than they did Anatole. Dolokhov could play all games and nearly always won. However much he drank, he never lost his clearheadedness. Both Kuragin and Dolokhov were at that time notorious among the rakes and scapegraces of Petersberg.” 

page 47, War and Peace

One of the things I’m enjoying most about reading War and Peace is Tolstoy’s descriptions of his characters. It’s something the writer does well and clearly enjoyed doing. From hair color to the shape of his mouth, Dolokhov, like all Tolstoy’s characters, is drawn in vivid and precise strokes, making it impossible not to see him. And yet, Tom Burke (The Musketeers), the actor who plays Dolokhov in the BBC production, is— physically at least—nothing like Tolstoy’s character. He appears here with a mustache. His eyes are the wrong color. And that very precisely described mouth? Burke was born with a ‘cleft lip,’ one of those natural imperfections that, in his case, make him all the more attractive. The ‘two distinct smiles’  and the ‘insolent intelligence’ of the look in his eyes are the attributes that Tom Burke brings to the fore and with them a self-assured cockiness that clearly show us a man who knows how to make his way in the world. Mustache or not, this is Dolokhov.

“He has this insatiable urge to consume things”       
                                                   Tom Burke on Dolokhov

Burke told the BBC ...
“It’s a gem of a part. I asked to go up for Dolokhov because he’s such a fascinating character. He’s vitally important when the Russians are at war because he helps win battles. He’s absolutely fearless – he simply runs at the enemy and hacks everyone to death! He has been described as a “soldier psychopath”. I don’t know what it is to be a psychopath, but Dolokhov clearly loves killing people, so arguably there are psychopathic tendencies in him.
The moment he’s not fighting, he creates trouble. At one point, he is demoted from his rank because he’s tied a policeman to a bear. He’s chaos! His philosophy is, “Don’t get married – only have affairs with married women”. He’s a nemesis to both Pierre and Nikolai. He creates catastrophes that unravel people. 
He’s like Onegin – he’s another of those Russian Byronic anti-heroes. He sees normal society as death – and therefore has no respect for it. He only cares about appetite. He has this insatiable urge to consume things. I’ve tried to play him as someone who feeds off other people, rather than a cool observer of it all.”

You can read the balance of Burke’s interview with the BBC here.

War and Peace has made its debut in the UK. Here in the states it arrives January 18th on Lifetime, the History Channel and A&E.

The War and Peace trailer ...