The Last Station

I highly recommend this dramatisation of Tolstoy's last days, directed by Michael Hoffman and based on the book by Jay Parini. Unlike other bio-pics, this one is rich and substantial, with lovely performances by the leads, and an engaging complexity at its heart. Helen Mirren is wonderful as the warm, stormy Sofya, thoroughly likable even as she smashes plates and shouts “I hate you!” at her husband. Tolstoy's wife is one of the most sympathetic figures in literary history - a victim of the licence granted her creative husband by himself and his sycophants. The film raises quite insoluble questions about the tension between art and life, and particularly between art and love. Sofya seems to represent the wreckage of ordinary happiness in the wake of extraordinary talent. Her antagonists seem to suggest that his expending love, energy, creativity, and intellect in marriage would mean he had nothing left for writing, and hence for posterity, for the world at large. (James MacAvoy has a great line: “I have never met mankind.”) The film makes of this tension a compelling and subtle drama, but I couldn't help thinking that balance must be possible, that life and literature must be compatible. Yet of how many great writers has this been true?