Miniseries: “War & Peace (2016)”

The miniseries has been a television staple for some time. Some of the most epic and marvelous storytelling has been done through this format. It’s within this style of storytelling that you’re able to get complete stories, but without the time constraint of a typical feature length film. It should always be worth it, but sometimes you get a miniseries that doesn’t even come close to this, but moves so far in the opposite direction, the only thing to do is warn others against it.

The A&E Networks miniseries “War & Peace”, is probably the worst miniseries I’ve ever had to sit through by choice.

This epic drama stars Paul Dano (“Youth”, “Love & Mercy”), Lily James (“Downton Abbey”, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”), James Norton (“Happy Valley”, “Grantchester”), Jessie Buckley (“Kenneth Branagh Theater Company’s the Winter’s Tale”, “The Tempest”), Aisling Loftus (“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”, “Mr. Selfridge”), Jack Lowden (“Wolf Hall”, “’71”), Tom Burke (“The Musketeers”, “Utopia”), Tuppence Middleton (“Dickensian”, “MI-5”), Callum Turner (upcoming “Green Room”, “Victor Frankenstein”), Adrian Edmondson (upcoming miniseries “Prey”, “Rocky Horror Show Live”), Rebeca Frost (“Doctor Who”, “Humans”), Greta Scacchi (“A.D. The Bible Continues”, “North v South”), Aneurin Barnard (“Killing Jesus”, “The Scandalous Lady W”), Mathieu Kassovitz (“Le Bureau des Legendes”, “Wild Life”), Stephen Rhea (“Out of the Dark”, “The Honorable Woman”), Brian Cox (“Pixels”, “The Slap (US Miniseries)”), Gillian Anderson (“The X-Files”, “Hannibal”), and Jim Broadbent (“London Spy”, “The Lady in the Van”).

The miniseries was directed by Tom Harper (“The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death”, “War Book”) and written by Andrew Davies (“A Poet in New York”, “Quirke”). It is based on the novel of the same name by Leo Tolstoy.

The miniseries originally ran from Jan. 18, 2016 to Feb. 8 on Lifetime, History, and A&E.

I was so excited for this! I don’t honestly know why, as I’ve never read the book or tried to read it, but I was. Perhaps it was the cast, or more specifically James, who’s really rising up in the world of film and television. I’ve been entertaining, of late, that it’s also due to the marketing. Seeing TV spots just got me even more excited! It didn’t help that eventually I just got so far behind and discovered that it would be told over weeks and not days, that I felt anxious or something. As with most things, I was eventually able to get around to watching it. And that’s really where my excitement ended, it’s sad to say. Not everything can turn out as expected.

For starters (and this is really the only positive aspect of this whole thing, so enjoy it while you can), there’s the costumes, set decorations and the set design, all of that, and the locations which make for one outstanding experience! They’re all equally gorgeous! They sold me on the time we were in and everything. I was somehow amazed by what I was looking at, as if I’d expected less than that. However none of that mattered as I was bored beyond belief.

This miniseries was an absolute bore. It was the most uninteresting thing I’ve ever watched. “Rosemary’s Baby (2014)” was far more interesting than this, and it too moved quite slowly and in the end had me hating it. I thought of one more miniseries that was boring too, but more interesting than this one. “Hatfields & McCoys” was a tough one to sit through, and yet I did. And I also was able to enjoy it a hell of a lot more than this much longer one. I was baffled that that was even possible. To put it simply, because of how bored I was, nothing that occurred interested me. The war elements were more exciting, for the obvious, but even these moments barely managed to interest me. Making things worse as I sat through this, is the fact that I didn’t even care about anything that was going on. I didn’t care about any of the characters either. Whenever something good or bad happened, I just stared and couldn’t wait to move on to the next uninteresting moment. I barely even got excited when I saw James, Dano, Anderson, or Broadbent on screen, which was as random as can be and for only small amounts of time.

However, I was able to make many notes on how bored I was and how boring each part was. One I loved, in particular, was when I wrote:

“Time to resume the boring part two. 44 minutes left and I’m not excited by this. God help me.”

Well, I’m not sure whether or not God did actually help me, but I made it through. Not without other problems, which didn’t actually make too much of a difference and didn’t actually have me caring about what I missed. I couldn’t actually watch the last minutes of part two, three, or four! however many they were, as the DVR recording cut off each time. To make things worse, part two was recorded again, but as I thought I didn’t need it, I deleted it and when I discovered I did, the other recording was no longer able to be restored. So, I found myself even more confused than I already was, and at that point I was still paying attention. By the absolute end, I just wanted it all to be over.

One of the reasons why I wanted it to be over, and I think this was also why I disliked a lot more of it than I should’ve was the finished filmed look of the miniseries. Let me try and explain that as even I feel I’m confused by what I’m saying. I couldn’t ever figure out what was up with the way this finished film looked. It looks like it bypassed a few phases in editing or treatment, something. It’s quite distracting and ruins all of the beauty that’s shown. It almost has the feel of a student film or some low budget film, which is quite sad. Better yet, it looked like it was film at some live performance, much like how “The Sound of Music Live!” looked. I’m a bit disappointed but this low budget look with something that should’ve looked grand and epic! I truly can’t recall a miniseries or TV movie that’s ever looked this bad. I think to what “Anna Karenina (2012)” looked like, and this should’ve looked something like it. It didn’t.

I also feel that because I was so distracted by this facet of the finished product, I couldn’t enjoy everything else. When watching this miniseries, I wanted to fully enjoy everything, as I said before, it was all so beautiful! Every ounce. Yet, it looked out of place and just off. I could never get past this. It’s difficult to get fully lost in something when that something is constantly reminding you of how out of place it is.

This in turn had me questioning what I felt about the acting. I can’t fully tell if I believed it or if I even simply liked it. Mind you most of the cast was severely underused, but that kind of lies with the source material. It’s still a shame. I’ve seen bad acting, but this just was stuck in a kind of limbo. This too was out of place and it became distracting. Although, now that I think about it, none of what the characters were doing or saying was all that interesting or exciting. I mean, when “Downton Abbey” is able to be far more lively, and move at just about a similar pace, then you have a pretty big problem. It’s no wonder the marketing materials were created the way the way they were. They needed to distract people from how dull this was.

I’ve loved the miniseries format for sometime. I’d even keep my eyes and ears on the look out for when new ones would debut, or if it were the SyFy channel (then SciFi) I’d be waiting for that special month of the year when it would debut new ones all month long. There’s even some that, as of this writing, I’m excited to see when they debut! Somehow I’ve just grown to expect great things from this format, even if they don’t all have that epic and beautiful look this one should’ve had or that something like “The 10th Kingdom” did have. So long as they’re good, engaging, and entertaining, I don’t care what the subject or genre is. It’s not much to ask for, especially since, you have quite a bit of time in which to tell a given story. One wouldn’t think it’d be easy to fuck up.


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