A month or so ago, I watched a DVD called, The Last Station (2009) which is essentially about the last year of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy’s life.
The film was based on a book by Jay Parini entitled, The Last Station: A Novel of Tolstoy’s Last Year.
It is a film that includes some historical events but which primarily combines fiction and facts of Tolstoy’s tumultuous last year. The book is similar in scope but to watch the film you don’t need to have read any of the Russian author’s works to enjoy this film directed by Michael Hoffman. Canada’s own legendary Christopher Plummer is perfectly cast as Tolstoy but it is Helen Mirren’s performance as Sofya Andreyevna, Tolstoy’s wife, who gives a tour de force performance in an otherwise enjoyable story. The Last Station relates Tolstoy’s struggle with his wife over his wish to bestow his entire works to the Russian people. His wife is terrified that she will be disavowed and excluded from her and her children’s lawful legacy. Married in 1862, Sofya bore Tolstoy 13 children, 5 of whom died in early childhood.
They were married for 48 years. When he wrote his masterpieces, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, his wife became his secretary, proof-reader and manager. During the last part of their marriage, he became increasingly iconoclastic and wished to renounce his inherited and acquired wealth including, to his wife utter dismay, the copyrights to his entire life’s works.
Although the film becomes slow and tedious near the end, it is Mirren’s dramatic turn and histrionic episodes that make for an interesting take on the philosopher’s later life. The bickering and arguments about Tolstoy’s will seem petty at times, yet the viewer tends to want to side with Sofya, if only to give her rightful due for having endured Tolstoy’s eccentricities for a life time, as compared to her more pragmatic attitudes. Love abounds between these two, however they seemed to have been incompatible on many levels which in turn brought them both profound grief and sadness, in their turbulent marriage. Tolstoy eventually escapes his home in search of some peace from Sofya, and to wander misanthropically, only to find his health failing him at the train station (Astapovo) where he finally succumbs to pneumonia, in 1910, at the age of 82.
Coincidentally, a few days after I’d watched The Last Station, I came upon a news article that the University of Ottawa Press had picked up the rights to a memoir written by Sofya, entitled My Life, and that it was going to be released in the coming weeks. I have subsequently read a few reviews on the book and look forward to reading it myself having always been a fan of Russian literature, but particularly of Tolstoy.
Check out the books and see the movie when you have some time. The film is an entertaining few hours perhaps curled up on your sofa on a Sunday afternoon while it snows or rains outside, during this unpredictable month of November, when you never know what the weather will bring. You could do worse than The Last Station and could perhaps learn something new about one of the 19th century’s greatest Russian novelists.
This the word on this grey and overcast, November.
Do something good, recycle, re-use and read! Cheers!