DIR/WRI: Michael Hoffman • PRO: Bonnie Arnold, Chris Curling, Jens Murer • DOP: Sebastian Edschmid • ED: Patricia Rommel • DES: Patrizia Von Brandenstein • CAST: Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, James McAvoy, Paul Giamatti
Director Michael Hoffman has given me some beloved guilty pleasure movies in the past, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Soapdish, but there’s nothing to be guilty about for loving The Last Station. The film examines the complex relationship between Leo Tolstoy’s avid followers and his family in the final days of his life. Both sides despise each other, for understandable reasons, and a devastating power struggle ensues between his loving, but somewhat status-obsessed wife, Lady Sofya (Mirren) and the leader of the Tolstoyan movement, Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) who, despite having a truly villainous demeanour, seems only to have the best in mind for his idol, Tolstoy.
The story itself, mediated by James McAvoy’s Valentin Bulgakov, a young Tolstoyan who finds himself caught in the middle, is admirably believable. Both parties involved are flawed yet both are genuine. Chertkov believes that Tolstoy’s work belongs in the public domain and should belong to the people of Russia, whereas Sofya believes the works should be kept in the family so that the next generations may be looked after. Both parties are trying to convince him of what to put in his will during the final days of his life, leading to blazing rows and skulduggery.
As I am truly a sucker for romance between elderly people, I found the scenes between Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer particularly moving. In between highly theatrical arguments, they share scenes of intimacy that are truly touching. Forty-year marriages are a complex business. Love is a messy affair and not always as cut-and-dry as most stories would have you believe. That is the heart of this film. Both lead actors give life and energy to their characters, along with a sense of understanding that they are reaching the end of their days.
Visually, this is a masterpiece. Hoffman has always been a man for lush colour palettes and luxurious, rich landscape but he outdoes himself here as every frame is delicately lit and sumptuously designed, but not so gaudy as to take away from the performances. Accompanied by a lovely score by Sergei Yevtushenko, the film takes on a dream-like quality, which allows the viewer to bask in its beauty, despite the melodrama on show.
This film is a joy to behold. A fantastically complex study of the unromantic side of marriage, the trials and tribulations that befall true love, The Last Station boasts brilliant performances by Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer and also by the strong supporting cast. Perhaps serious Tolstoy fans might find factual errors in the film, but otherwise let this film sweep you away on a romantic, political, morally chequered journey through the final days of Leo Tolstoy.
(See biog here)
The Last Station is released 19th Feb 2010