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British Film Review: The Last Station In an exploration of the dichotomies within love, reason and justice The Last Station, directed by Michael Hoffman, harkens back to the ‘last days’ and unsteady marriage of one of Russia’s literary greats - Leo Tolstoy. Based on a novel by Jay Parini, this nuanced version is built with side-splitting scenarios based on real-life accounts of Tolstoy’s tumultuous relationship with Countess Sofya - wife and muse. Helen Mirren, who plays Sofya, steals the show with an impassioned, slapstick-esque performance. Tolstoy, who’s played by Christopher Plummer, borders more on jolly Santa Claus rather than the austere, Christian pacifist and anarchist character embodied by the actual icon. Nevertheless, the narrative doesn’t stray too far from prominent truths, and in a climactic scene Tolstoy fervently declares: “I don’t write for publishers, I write for people.” This motive forms the basis of the narrative and encapsulates the couple’s contention; Tolstoy wishes to leave his royalties to Russia’s poverty-stricken peasantry and Sofya, chagrined and embittered, wants to ensure her husband passes his legacy onto their children. Unfortunately, another greedy eye is upon Tolstoy’s loot, Vladimir Chertkovs; who is played by Paul Giamatti with a perfect smarm that translates vibrantly on screen. Chertkov , a key player within the Tolstoyian movement (which saw its own commune-like, peace retreat in Moscow) vows to ensure his master’s will goes to the people, all so he says. Bitter conflict blazes between the Countess and her opponent; enraged she alludes to him as a “self serving, puritanical idiot,” a “sychpohant,” and most controversially a “pervert.” Truly, this proves to be one of the funniest cinematic releases in a while, and to add to the already winning performance by Mirren, James McAvoy graces the screen as overly enthusiastic Tolstoyan novice, Valentin Bulgakov. Whilst McAvoy’s performance is endearing and fresh, the childlike and eager-spirit in his portrail of Bulgakov could be seen as bordering on overacted perhaps. However, his performance alongside co-star Kerry Condon, who plays Masha, a full-hearted, strong willed woman and fellow Tolstoyan, is one to shout about. Complete with the typical, stunning Russian iconography you’d expect to see in a film like this, Mirren’s decadent hat collection is certainly something special. The same can be said of this heart-warming story!
Jade Lori Baker
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