Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy) gets a post as the new secretary of Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer). Tolstoy is currently considering donating the rights to his works to the Russian people, much supported by Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), his friend and partner-in-politics. Alone Tolstoy’s wife Sofya (Helen Mirren) strongly opposes this – she fears for her future, as well as the future of her kids. This fight leaves their marriage more than strained.
This is one impressive movie, thanks to Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer. Also, the relationship between Sofya and Leo is very fascinating. Unfortunately, not all progressions within the story are completely clear to me…
The story is rather interesting, but completely unimportant as the whole film gets hijacked by Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer. If there hadn’t been any other actor in this movie, one would have hardly noticed. Some of the other actors, like Paul Giamatti and Anne-Marie Duff, resign themselves to that fate. They give solid performances without much of a profile.
James McAvoy on the other hand fights for his role and mostly loses against the star power of Helen Mirren. He isn’t bad but one is continuously jerked out of the film by the question why one should care about him or his character, when all one wants to see is the Tolstoys.
The story is interesting. Who knew what kind of power struggles were going on in the House of Tolstoy? Well, I didn’t even know that Tolstoy himself became a kind of religious-sans-religion leader.
Unfortunately, sometimes it felt to me that I didn’t bring enough knowledge to this movie. Knowledge of the Tolstoy’s lives as much as knowledge about Russia at that time and its social conventions. For example, I really didn’t understand how Sofya would have been kept away from her husband like that – and everybody accepts it as pretty much normal, including Sofya.
In any case, the movie is well worth to be watched, and be it only to enjoy the performances.