THE LAST STATION  directed by Michael Hoffman (2009)

The prominence given to the image of Helen Mirren in this poster says a lot about where the real focus of this movie lies. Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy is reduced to little more than a supporting role.

This film is based on Jay Parini’s work of faction about the last year of Leo Tolstoy’s life in 1910.

The title refers to Astapovo railway station where Tolstoy died after a misguided, and belated, bid for peace and freedom from his claustrophobic marriage.

He was married to Sofya for 48 years and she bore him 13 children. The movie in part seems to want to show that, although their relationship deteriorated into a bitter feud, there was still a great deal of affection between the couple.

His wife is presented as manipulative, money grabbing and intolerant yet because she is played by Helen Mirren she also comes over as the most honest and likeable character in the movie.

We are not privy to any deep insights into Tolstoy  but understand a little more of how he influenced others by moral philosophy and spiritual teachings.

Yet for all his fine words about equality and living simply, Christopher Plummer certainly doesn’t portray the celebrated author as someone who renounced worldly pleasures. He’s a long way from being the living saint many imagined. Tolstoy draws many followers but is the first to admit that they are more ‘Tolstoyian’ than he is.

The other love interest in the movie is that of Tolstoy’s new secretary Valentin Bulgarov (James McAvoy). This enthusiastic but naive young man dutifully subscribes to passive resistence, vegetarianism and celebacy but abandons the latter without much of a struggle when seduced by a comely young female worker, Masha (Kerry Condon).

The main subplot surrounds lawyer Vladimir Chertkov (a wonderfully slimy Paul Giamatti) who works to ensure that Tolstoy’s will is changed to benefit the common good and further the interests of the community inspired by the great writer’s ideas. A note a the end of the movie tells us that , although the writer signed away the copyright to place them in the public domain, his wife won back the rights to his works five years after his death.

This is a pleasant, well acted, resolutely unambitious movie which places an historical event in a mostly cosy, domestic setting. Little effort has been devoted to create any real sense of place so the landscape and peasants always look suspiciously picturesque and clean.

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