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The Last Station

Germany/Russia/United Kingdom 2009
Directed by
Michael Hoffman
112 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The Last Station

Synopsis: It's 1910 and an aged Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer, the greatest living novelist in the world  is putting his affairs in order.  He is caught in a battle between his wife, Sofya (Helen Mirren) who is alarmed by his proposal to give away the copyright to his works after his death, something which Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) the idealogue for the "Tolstoyians," a small group of Christian anarchists is determined he should do. On hand to witness the fracas is Valentin Bulakov (James McAvoy), Tolstoy's secretary and Chertkov’s ears.

Well-scripted by Hoffman with fine performances by the entire cast including the deservedly Oscar-nominated Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer, The Last Station is a reassuring, high quality costume drama that will appeal to an older audience.  Based on a semi-fictional novel of the same name by Jay Parini it looks at Tolstoy’s last days through the eyes of James McAvoy’s young idealist, Valetin. Hoffman is an American director with a couple of historical pieces his CV, 1995’s Restoration with Robert Downey Jnr and 1999’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream with Kevin Kline and Michelle Pfeiffer but this film looks and feels very much like a UK production not least because of the accents (the Mirren and Plummer roles were originally to be taken by Meryl Streep and Anthony Hopkins). Only Paul Giamatti, who is superb as Tolstoy’s fervid apostle, Chertkov goes out of his way to lose his native accent. This works well enough, for although the art direction has a comfortably generic feel to it, the film without labouring the issue gives, at least to a non-Russian eye, a believable depiction of Tolstoy’s world..

Whilst the core and the strength of the film is the relationship between the ascetic author and his very different wife, there is a sub-plot involving Valentin’s relationship with a comely young Tolstoyan (Kerry Condon). This was perhaps inserted as a sop to a younger audience but their romantic scenes seemed more suited to some kind of 'neath stairs Edwardian dalliance than comradely consciousness-raising. Had their canoodling been left out it would have helped to give the film a stronger focus (Condon’s breasts are shapely but completely gratuitous).and help lessen the sensation of a slight drag in parts.

The Last Station is a skilfully crafted film, with a sensitive score by Sergei Yevtushenko and an intelligent script realized by first class performances all round. It perhaps falls short of its potential but nevertheless has much to commend as a portrait of love, both compassionate and romantic.




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