A&E, Lifetime, and the History Channel are currently airing the BBC’s 2016 adaptation of War and Peace. There’s some good … but there’s also some bad and some very, very ugly. We’ll be recapping each of the
three four parts (six episodes if you watched it in the UK), focusing on the costumes, praising what needs to be praised and snarking where it’s required.
I’ve just realized that the episodes are airing differently in the US, so this recap is of part 2 of what I think was the first episode (US style), or episode 2 (UK style). This time, boys are petulant, major characters die (maybe), extramarital shagging occurs, and we meet my hottie for this series:
Helene (new name: BitchWife) and Pierre get married. Probably luckily for this show, we can’t see too much of BitchWife’s dress beyond that it’s very lacy, very sheer, and very beaded. She is wearing a beautiful (to my uneducated eye) kokoshnik, a traditional Russian headdress. I’m seeing similarly shaped kokoshniks when I search for them, but I’m no expert, so hopefully some of you can tell us whether this is an acceptable shape for the era.
Prince Kuragin is counting his rubles all through the ceremony:
Meanwhile in Austria, Andrei delivers dispatches to yet another fatalistic general (this one Austrian?):
And back in Russian, Pierre wakes up in something akin to my dream room (although I’d ditch the giant porcelain cabinets):
He’s SUPER EXCITED about BitchWife:
Meanwhile, the Rostovs receive a letter that Nikolai has been wounded, which is good news, because he’s 1) not dead and 2) coming home for a while!
At first, I was excited because hey, Natasha is wearing something plausible! It’s got day-appropriate long sleeves, and the cross-over bodice and tassels are very of-the-era.
But then I saw that the waist tie is laying about 2″ below the dress’s waist seam, and sighed.
Meanwhile Sonya hears the good news in a sheer blue printed day dress with (hallelujah!) long sleeves:
Back at the war… Nikolai goes to visit Frodo and wows him and some rando with his battle “exploits”:
Andrei randomly shows up, Nikolai gets bitchy, so Andrei gets bitchy right back:
Both of them are like:
After a nice drone shot of snowy woods:
Prince Kuragin hauls DoucheBag out to propose to Marya:
Lise and Mademoiselle Bourienne have decided to
tart Marya up dress Marya fashionably. Lise is wearing a great printed floral over-robe with lovely piped and buttoned tabs at the waist:
While Mademoiselle Bourienne wears a dress made from the floral printed nylon cover of my canopy bed c. 1982:
Marya is feeling very unsure about getting all dressed up — she’s clearly more comfortable being in the background. She’s looking okay in her sheer printed dress, until they add the pièce de résistance — a ribbon, which they tie all wonkily in her hair:
Luckily they’ve fixed it by the time she comes out, and Marya looks quite lovely for DoucheBag:
Luckily Dad (Prince Bolkonsky) is there to emotionally abuse Marya, put her in her place, and make her feel like a pig in lipstick. I do like that Dad puts on his wig for this formal-ish occasion. Older men would totally have still worn wigs, and it’s nice to see a nod to this.
DoucheBag is wearing a waistcoat that is probably made of brocade, but just looks like one of those sparkly knit polyester fabrics from the 1970s:
Nonetheless, he manages to crack a joke and put Marya at ease. This might work out!
Except that evening, while Marya is trying to show off her ladylike attributes, DoucheBag discovers he has a fetish for 1980s floral nylon canopy bed covers:
The next day, Prince Bolkonsky tells Marya that her marriage is basically up to her. While it’s a nice sentiment, he’s super brusque about it, and it’s pretty obvious he’s not going to react well to her saying yes. Marya considers her options while wearing a schoolmarm-ish blouse and overdress combo… but she clearly is more comfortable being back to looking like herself.
Leaving her father, Marya discovers DoucheBag and Mlle. Bourienne making out in the conservatory.
She doesn’t freak out or say anything, just says no to DoucheBag, claiming that she never wants to leave her emotionally abusive father. Probably the right call, Marya. Getting out of the house is good, except when you go from the fireplace to the fire.
DoucheBag is not upset.
Meanwhile, back at the war… Tsar Alexander the Hot turns up, and the soldiers (including Nikolai) wet themselves in excitement.
Despite fatalistic General Kutuzov telling him that the Russians are fucked, Tsar Alexander the Hot is team “Let’s do this!” when it comes to Napoleon.
Andrei realizes that he may well die tomorrow, so decides to finally do the decent thing and write his family (including his wife) a letter.
There’s another great shot of scenery, this time misty fields:
And we get a glimpse of Napoleon, or Nappy as I’m going to call him, which is my household’s nickname for the dog named Napoleon in our neighborhood who likes to get amorous with my dog Winston (Winston is not a fan):
Kutuzov holds his troops back, because Nappy is obviously going to win, but Tsar Alexander the Hot orders him to order them (phew, this is complicated!) into battle.
The Russians run at the French, who shoot them with cannons and guns, leading me to lots of “war, what is it good for” thoughts. The Russians turn and run, but Andrei is no wussy soldier, so he hops off his horse, grabs the battle flag, and just as I’m admiring said flag as a lovely piece of textile art, gets bayonetted. Oops!
After the battle, Tsar Alexander the Hot is sad, and Andrei is left for dead.
Back in Russia… Pierre foolishly thinks that since he’s married to BitchWife, maybe they could spend some time together and just maybe, you know, have a baby? BitchWife is like LOL to both, and tells him he’s welcome to get a mistress and have kids with her. While all of this is happening, BitchWife is wearing GOD ONLY KNOWS WHAT on her head. I will be HAPPY for someone to explain to me that this is some traditional Russian spackle-application headdress. Until then, I scoff.
Back at the Rostovs, Nikolai is home and everyone is totally excited, except me because I now see how fugly Sonya’s blue dress is:
The next day, Natasha is in an acceptable (from what I can see) blue day dress, while Sonya wears a nice Indian-esque floral print. The girls burst in on Nikolai and his army friend, and are treated to a bit of a show:
Natasha tries to pin Nikolai down about manning-up and marrying Sonya. He’s very petulant about it, although says he could never go back on his word. At least his gold printed dressing gown is gorgeous:
At the Bezukhovs, Pierre invites his old drinking buddy Dolokhov to stay at his house, and BitchWife is NOT PLEASED.
She decides to show her displeasure partially through anachronistic bias-draped necklines and too much sternum:
At dinner, the tension is thick as Pierre tries to smooth things over, Dolokhov is supercilious, and BitchWife confuses everyone with her COMPLETELY MODERN CLEAVAGE.
Yeah, it’s that time:
Over at the Bolkonskys, Dad decides it will be most helpful to yell at Lise about worrying. Because that’s going to help her relax. And then, a letter arrives telling them that Andrei has died. Prince Bolkonsky gets upset, but only after Marya leaves the room. By the time she’s back to say that she doesn’t think they should tell Lise, he’s back to woodcarving (and no, that’s not a euphemism).
Marya continues to rock the schoolmarm look, but I don’t mean that as a snark — it suits her! While Lise continues to have the best hair.
Back at the Bezukhovs, Pierre is unhappy with his life, causing him to contemplate a shitty portrait of himself that makes him look acne-scar-ridden:
He goes over to the Rostovs to visit their pigs and let Natasha cheer him up:
There, Natasha is entertaining Nikolai’s friend with her historical manic pixie dream girl “charming younger sister” dance, showing off her layers of petticoats:
Nikolai is out of uniform (seems odd, given how “I’m in the ARMY” he is), wearing a gorgeous pea green jacket that pairs beautifully with his gray waistcoat, so I forgive him.
While Pierre is away, Dolokov and BitchWife decide to test the weight-bearing capabilities of the dining table (because no servants would see this, oh no):
And when Pierre gets home, a well-dressed servant (all of them have been! nice livery! nice wigs!) delivers an anonymous note accusing BitchWife and Dolokov of having an affair.
BitchWife shows up to say “Later, I’m going to party without you” in a Studio 54-worthy charmeuse gown, with a fabulous long coat that has a collar that either doubles as a life vest or is one of those packable rain coats with a stuff-away-able hood:
At the Bolkonskys, Lise goes into labor, and Andrei turns up back from the dead… just in time to pat his wife on the head before she dies, mid-scream, in childbirth. (Note to those who know: does this happen? I guess blood loss or something?) The baby makes it, tho!
While Pierre heads off to a regimental dinner, where he’s shaken and out of it… then challenges Dolokov to a duel.
Then Pierre looks at Dolokov and basically goes:
To which Dolokov basically says:
What did you think of episode 2?
LMFAO! (In my head, because I should be working) Thank you so much for the entertaining plot/costume recaps on this series so I DON’T HAVE TO WATCH IT. I would argue your recaps are probably more entertaining than the show itself.
Pshaw! *mimes “gimme more” motions*
Maybe there should be a “Bad Costume Flick: We watch it so you don’t have to” week. (I mean, if you’re not doing anything…. ;-} )
Well we DO have a “the things I do for you” tag… https://www.frockflicks.com/tag/the-things-i-do-for-you/
yes, yes, but I’m greedy
I believe the “giant porcelain cabinets” are actually stoves, for heating the room. They were the 18th century predecessors to the cast iron stoves seen in the 19th century and were quite prevalent in Europe, if I recall correctly… I imagine all that ceramic tile would give off a lot of heat!
Reminds me of a large samovar. And they also are pretty.
Thanks! Since it’s my dream room, in my dream it’s perfectly toasty (and not drafty as it would be in reality).
So, a villa in Italy, perhaps? :-)
Yes, it is a stove. It is very common in The Netherlands, Scandinavia and I am presuming Russia as well. Here is French version http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/photo/ceramic-stove-top-18th-century-inside-high-res-stock-photography/500062611
SO WAIT, IS IT A STOVE? (Seriously, the next person to tell me that owes me a very expensive cocktail!)
Yes! We saw them in castles and palaces all over Eastern Europe. They are called Masonry Heaters, and the advantage is that the wood fire would burn quickly, heating the unit which would then radiate the heat into the rest of the room slowly. I actually paused the show to show them to my husband who also thought they were some kind of wardrobe or furniture.
I agree: stoves. Having two giant ones like these would make Russian winter more bearable!
WAIT, ARE THEY STOVES??!!
They are stoves. The Philadelphia Museum of Art has a nice one in their display of historical rooms. They were often covered with Delft tiles.
First of all, I agree with the posters that the porcelain cabinets are stoves. I have seen slightly smaller ones in German castles.
Secondly, do the costumers of this epic not know about underpinnings???? Even a bodiced petticoat would give the breasts some support and provide a period shape. I’ve been involved in War of 1812 reenactments for a while now (same period as Napoleonic Wars) and frankly, most of the ladies in the hobby have much better clothing than the actresses in this. How expensive can some period underwear be in the grand scheme of things?
BUT STERNUMS ARE SEXXXXAY!! (ugh)
Only to Douchebag and his sister, Bitchwife, whom I’ve decided to call Whorewife from here on out.
I am so happy these recaps are continuing, because after a really shitty week I really needed the laugh.
Also, I am starting to head canon that BitchWife is a time traveller from either the 1930s or the 1970s. With that her costume choices make (if only a bit) more sense. (Mind you. I do the same with Penny Dreadful’s Dorian Gray, even if the costumes in PD are generally way better than those here)
Yep, BitchWife is there to bring gin and the Charleston to the benighted people of 1812 Russia!
Nicholas’ army friend is Denisov, who’s actually pretty awesome in the book except that in the translation I have he talks like Elmer Fudd.
He knows a wascally wabbit when he sees one!
He’s such good fwiends with Wostov.
Denisov is a lovely character and I can emphaise with his speech defect as I sometimes suffer from the same. As a minor aside the actor who played Denisov in the 72 version also had the role of the one officer at the Opera who is courteous to Anna K in the 79 BBC series. Must have been Denisov’s grandson. I am glad to see that they kept the character if Denisov in this version.
Lise does indeed die in childbirth, although she breathes her last as Andrei enters the house and he is too late to say goodbye to her. He remarks that her expression is one of reproach because she died “alone” abandoned by her husband. It does not specify why she dies in the book, (as I recall) but I guess that death in childbirth was so common then readers just accepted it as part of the natural course of events and a really convenient way to write out unwanted female characters.
Loving this blog BTW. I may even get up the courage to watch this version/travesty/abomination as it sounds as though it has some redeeming elements but will ensure that nobody else is home at the time to hear me swearing about it.
Lise does see Andrei before she dies:
‘Prince Andrew entered and paused facing her at the foot of the sofa on which she was lying. Her glittering eyes, filled with childlike fear and excitement, rested on him without changing their expression. “I love you all and have done no harm to anyone; why must I suffer so? Help me!” her look seemed to say. She saw her husband, but did not realize the significance of his appearance before her now. Prince Andrew went round the sofa and kissed her forehead.
“My darling!” he said—a word he had never used to her before. “God is merciful….”
She looked at him inquiringly and with childlike reproach.’
After that, he’s rushed out of the room while she keeps moaning until the baby is delivered and she dies.
Clearly I have been re watching the TV series (1972) too many times. (it takes so much less time than re reading the book. It must have been almost twenty years since my last re read, before the birth of my eldest made reading novels almost impossible.) In that TV adaptation he arrives back after she dies hence my error.
Elmer Fudd, hmm, you mean ‘Kill the French, kill the French’ sung to the great Wagnerian tune ‘Kill the Rabbit’?
Denisov, I agree is a mensch.
I have just discovered your blog and I am seriously in love with your writing and the research. Amazing work! Would love to meet up with you if you are in New York.
Sadly we are on the West Coast!
If you ever make it East to the NYC area, though–seriously, I’m a short ride away in Connecticut!
I am 100% behind a snark week post about bad paintings in historical films. That’s some Dorian Gray-looking nonsense right there.
Who vets these things??!!
Fun fact: Tsar Alexander the Hot is played by the younger brother of the equally dishy Ralph of Indian Summers.
Aieeee! SIBLING SAMMICH!
No way! That’s awesome.
As awkward as Natasha and Sonya’s costumes are, I still think it’s a deliberate choice to make them appear childish – no bust, weird bangs, etc. It must be extremely challenging to make a 26-year-old look half her age.
I think you’re right, but I’m still going to snark them!
No wonder our Tsar Alexander is so hot, with relations like Ralph….
Did you know that Tsar Alex the Hot was his grandmother, Catherine’s favourite grandchild. Catherine was Catherine II.
This was really funny and entertaining. Is this the first production that you’ve done recaps for?
We did them for Indian Summers and for Downton Abbey, but those have been a bit more serious-toned because they weren’t such a travesty. We are planning to add more recaps — I’m thinking I’ll do “Outlander” for sure!
Outlander, great. Jamie can be Jamie the Hottest. And Laoghaire (spelling?) Can be Larry the Dumb Bitch.
But seriously, that would be great.
Or you can refer to to her how we do – Leghair
Leghair!Made of win.
As always highly entertaining review. I just knew you guys were going to have fun with this show.
OK, I’m freaking out because I watched this, (twice, actually) and somehow missed the scene where the douchebag goes to the Bolkonsky’s to propose Marya. Was this perhaps not shown in the US version? Also, as I was watching this, I thought of you and was hoping you would be able to explain the embroidered bathing cap on Helene! You are my expert, you’re supposed to know!
Oh, the porcelain cabinets are masonry heaters, also known as kachelofen, They were used in all those beautiful palaces in Russia, Austria, Germany, etc., put out much more efficient heat than a regular fireplace.
I’m so confused, how would those scenes not be included? They ARE showing the episodes differently in the US, ie 3 episodes instead of 6, but it looks like they’re just combining two British episodes into 1 American.
We were watching on American TV but gave up and started watching the BBC version on the internet because the US broadcast cut out SO. MUCH. I think it’s because the BBC doesn’t have commercials, so two hours for them is a solid two hours of programming whereas two hours in the US has about forty minutes of commercials.
That sucks! Well I’m going to keep recapping the UK version, because more = more comedy.
Either they messed with it or I spaced out on that scene too. It was a week ago and the garish atrocities of the costumes and OMG!BANGS have given me some post-traumatic amnesia as far as keeping every character straight, but I really don’t remember that scene. In comparing the original running times and the US + *yawn* ads running times, I had hopes they wouldn’t be omitting anything.
Why do they feel the need to edit shows for American audiences? Did they feel like something would confuse us? Did they think we wouldn’t notice, then use alternate means to watch the original instead of watch the butchered version for our poor, American sensibilities? Ugh. :(
I firmly believe that American programmers for TV believe that, we as an audience are uneducated about world history and won’t understand anything. Thank Ghu for PBS. Not once during any historical adaptation did I feel that. And I read European history and Art History at uni.
Seriously, though. I might understand the whole “we want the costumes to appeal to a modern audience” angle, if it weren’t for the fact that without the correct undergarments, they’re SO UNFLATTERING!!! You have to work hard to make Lily James’ figure look that frumpy.
Obviously, they read only one quote from H.L. Mencken: “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” But yes, programmers think we’re all ignorant yokels.
I wonder if BitchWife’s weird cap is supposed to keep her curls in order while she sleeps. No idea though, if anyone has ever actually worn such a thing.
Regarding the childbirth scene, ummmm. I’m a med student, so I have a bit of a thing about medical inaccuracies on screen (also for costumes, but I don’t have the background knowledge, which is why I adore your blog). The make-up artists in War & Peace did pretty well with the war wounds I thought, so I had my hopes up for the birth, but sadly they’ve gone back to the trope of “who needs accuracy when you can have mid-scream DRAMA”. Ok, one point for letting it last from morning into the night, that’s realistic. But Lise’s strange near-continuous screeching? Sounded more like gallbladder pain than a delivery. As many of you out there probably know, labour pain comes in waves, hitting really hard every 2-3 minutes with a contraction (at which time women do get very loud) but with nothing in between (you can chat quite normally to her then), even in the later pushing stage. (As a side note, labour pain doesn’t build up to this instantly, so contrary to the “ouch what was that” “you are in labour!!!” stereotype, it can be pretty hard to establish whether labour has started.) Unfortunately, most directors decide all this is not dramatic enough for a limited amount of screen time, so the actress just screams her head off throughout.
As to what killed Lise, big question mark – no clues on screen. Historically and still globally most dangerous is postpartum haemorrhage, i.e. a massive bleed after the delivery when the womb doesn’t contract down properly – but in that case she wouldn’t be screaming right up to the end and there just was nowhere near enough blood. You’d be talking puddles on the floor, not just a few smears on the surgeon’s apron. Infection would have been another biggie, but would not kill instantly. Eclamptic fit a la Downton Abbey? Would not be screaming up to the end. Obstructed labour? This could fit with her earlier difficulties, but that baby seems to have come out alright (if there was an operation, we’d see more blood again, at least on the doctor). Seems like we’re left with ridiculous rarities like a heart attack or amniotic fluid embolism (a bit of the fluid round the baby entering the mother’s blood stream) but these are super small print. Long story cut short, god only knows what was meant to go on there. I doubt the director knew.
Sorry for the ridiculously long post.
No, this was all fascinating! I’m glad to hear I’m not crazy when I thought “yeah, postpartum blood loss or infection, but mid-scream keel over? huh?”
To be fair, Tolstoy leaves it pretty vague too — the labour’s all offstage (mostly we just see everyone else waiting around trying to conceal their worry for a night and a day). I think here was a bit about Lise not trusting to a rural midwife and wanting a doctor, and the screaming doesn’t really start until the end, so I’m wondering if the implication was that the doctor messed things up (which would fit pretty well with the novel’s themes).
I completely agree with you, but Tolstoy (writing at a time when birth was still largely women’s business) leaving things vague to my mind doesn’t excuse a modern production not doing some homework and falling into every cliché trap – I’m on labour ward placement at the moment and just cringed through the whole scene because the way it was shown is just… well… not as it is. (However, to be fair, even more medically focused shows like Grey’s Anatomy do this.)
Yes how fascinating!
This episode could best be described as “well-dressed people behaving stupidly.” Aside from that, the devil is in the details: half the people crossing themselves are doing it Orthodox fashion: top-bottom-right-left, but the rest are doing it Roman fashion: top-bottom-left-right.
The battle of Borodino was a loss for the Russians, because the French fought through to Moskva, but they paid the price with heavy losses. Russian, 15,00 killed, 25,000 wounded; French 30,000 men and 12 generals.
The funny thing with Borodino in the series is that Napoleon pronounces it stressed correctly (BorodinO), and Kutuzov for some unknown reason says it like it’s somewhere in Italy, as BorodEEEno
Re: Bitchwife’s bathing cap… thing, maybe based in part on whatever Pauline Bonaparte is wearing on her head in this portrait?:
Wow, that’s a good guess!
Saw the last ep. True love triumphs. So un-Russian. Too bad most of the peace scenes weren’t as good as the war scenes.
Kachelofen are also known as “Siberian stoves” and you can get plans for them. They will burn pretty much anything for fuel and put out a lot of heat.
Where can one purchase the gold printed dressing gown of Nicolai Rostov? or something similar.
Thank you, this is so hilarious! The acting, directing and cinematography look awful even in screencaps. The costumes look weird and frumpy. One thing I should note though, shouting “Hurrah” is totally correct for the Russians :) Still done during official parades and celebrations.