Remembering war and peace

Been watching the BBC production of War and Peace the last few weeks, and really enjoying it. It looks beautiful, and of course it’s a timeless story.

I’ve read the book twice. The first time must have been when I was about 19. I remember I was living in Sydney at the time, in Watsons Bay. The second time was about nine years ago as I was travelling through Egypt, Jordan and Morocco.

There have been a few productions of over the years, but this is the first one I’ve really watched. It’s gorgeous – the photography, the costumes and colour, the blue skies, the lush vegetation, the deep snow, the faces too, and the music. It’s well cast and well acted and I find myself swaying to it.

Watching it I remember the characters from the book. Andrei Bolkonsky was always my favourite, noble and smart and soulful. He’s a poignant character, a good man seemingly doomed.

Then there’s good-hearted and clumsy Pierre Bezoukhov. In many ways he seems the least likely, he inherits a fortune and title, but is exploited. He’s naive and good hearted, stumbling through life but somehow standing still as others fall about him. It’s impossible not to feel fond of such a good person, and to cringe occasionally at his missteps.

Finally there’s Rostov, my last favourite, headstrong and dashing. I played footy with a lot of people like him. As brave as the day is long, sometimes impulsive, but a good heart.

I watch something like this and I wish I was there to see it myself. The characters may be fictional, but the history is true. I always used to watch Mr Peabody and Sherman and wished I had one of the groovy way-back machines they used to travel to great moments of historical import. Me, I’d have done the same, just to see for myself. I find almost astounding that these things occurred. For us they’re pages in a history book, and recreated fictionally in a mini-series, but it was real, and happening. Once it was in the future.

I think with Tolstoy you feel that more than with a lot of writers. This is such a sweeping story of great moments and history being made, and yet it’s also very human. Bolkonsky and Bezoukhov may not have existed in truth, yet there where men just like them, who lived as they did, who perhaps experienced the same travails. We become familiar with these characters, we know and grow fond of them. They are real, beautifully constructed individuals, but what brings them close to us is that they are also universal.

That’s what I like about the best art. We are brought close to the truths that we know and hold inside of us, but which, for whatever reason, we rarely have cause to contemplate or feel. They are like memories we don’t remember forming, but which ring true and eternal as they coalesce in our mind, and somewhere else south of that. Life seems bigger, greater, grander, and carries a weight we feel, briefly, before we forget again.

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