War & Peace Premiere Recap: Napoleon Dynamite

Photo: Courtesy BBC/Laurie Sparham.
Whether you've pored through every single one of Leo Tolstoy's words or simply skimmed CliffsNotes during high school English, Lifetime, A&E, and The History Channel are now about to make you even more intimately familiar with War and Peace. It's got sex, battlefields, and Cinderella herself, so let's tuck in, shall we?

Part One — there are four in all — begins in 1805. Russian troops are joining Austria to fight the invading Napoleon, but that doesn't stop the clumsy Pierre Bezukhov (Paul Dano), the illegitimate son of Count Bezukhov, from shocking his fellow party-goers by praising the French general.

"Our drawing rooms are filled with overfed aristocrats who have no idea what real is," he announces to a drawing room full of overfed aristocrats who have no idea what real life is. His host, Gillian Anderson's Anna Pavlovna, is upset; his relative, Stephen Rea's Prince Vasilly, is embarrassed; and his best friend, James Norton's Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, is dreamy — er, where were we?

Pierre is full of idealistic intentions, but Andrei can't see past his boredom with society and his pregnant, slightly needy wife Lise to fully listen. He's off to war. Pierre, meanwhile, is off to party.

Although, not for long. Pierre receives notice that his father, Count Bezukhov, has suffered strokes and is on his deathbed. He's whisked off by Vasilly to see his dying dad, but manages to sneak in a visit at his friends, the Rostovs. There we meet Natasha (Cinderella star Lily James, who still seems like bluebirds and butterflies dress her every morning), and her brother Nikolai. Both Rostovs are fresh from some TLC. Nikolai's got a romance with his cousin Sonya, while a curious Natasha plants a kiss on Boris Drubetskoy, then pulls the classic Andie-MacDowell-in-Four-Weddings-and-a-Funeral line on him: "Now we're engaged." Though Boris and Natasha would be an excellent couple nickname, she's, alas, not really all that into him.

Pierre is summoned from the Rostov home; his father has had another stroke. Boris' pushy mother Anna Mikhailovna insists on joining him. It's just as well, as Vasilly and a female cousin have been scheming about the Count's will so that Pierre won't wind up with everything. Pierre arrives in time to kiss the Count's hand, while Anna literally wrestles the will in question out of his cousin's arms. The Count dies on cue and the paperwork shows that Pierre is the new Count Bezukhov.

Andrei's homecoming is only slightly happier. His sister, Marya, is a kindhearted soul who weeps on command and begs him to wear a Christian icon on the battlefield even though he's not religious. His father, Prince Nikolai (played by Jim Broadbent), is the curmudgeonly sort who doesn't really do goodbyes except to say he'd be "pained" by Andrei's death but "ashamed" by his bad behavior. After giving Lise a frosty farewell kiss and planting her crying ass down in a chair (not cool, Andrei), he's off to Austria.

Nikolai and Boris are also off to war, and the action moves to Austria circa autumn 1805. Brian Cox's General Kutuzov (a real-life character, by the way) has his plans thwarted when a wounded Austrian general informs him that all 70,000 troops have surrendered, and they must retreat. This is disappointing news to both Andrei and Nikolai. The former pleads to see some action despite the army's bad odds: It's 7,000 men against France's 45,000. Nikolai finally gets his big moment, which means he gets to charge at the enemy while waving his sword before his horse gets shot. Left behind, he can only throw his gun in the general direction of French soldiers before running off back to the woods. He ends up crawling through gunfire, and landing at the feet of a soldier who calls him a "little bunny rabbit."

Winter sets in St. Petersburg. Pierre is struggling with his new title and wealth. He wants to share his money, not hoard it. Vasilly wins gold in the Bullshit Olympics by insisting that rich people only "curate" their money and possessions for the next generation, which makes it an "honor and a duty." He helpfully adds that Pierre needs to start thinking about having heirs.
Photo: Courtesy BBC/Laurie Sparham.
If he has his way, said heirs will be calling Vasilly grandpa. As his son Anatole informs his daughter Helene in a creepy, incestuous cuddling session, Vasilly wants her to marry Pierre. He's a "very wealthy buffoon," you see. Anna Pavlovna is recruited as wingwoman and before you know it, Pierre and Helene are ice-skating under the watchful eye of sour-faced Vasilly. The prince tells Anna Pavlovna that is he'll "force the issue" is Pierre doesn't pop the question. That's just what he does. During dinner Pierre gives Helene the "it's complicated" line. She flicks her eye at her father, who walks over to embrace the couple and announce their engagement, much to Pierre's shock and confusion. Total #guyboss move, Vasilly.

Back in Austria, a wounded Nikolai has somehow found himself promoted to officer. He's also sleeping with prostitutes and butting heads with Andrei, who doesn't believe his tales of heroism. He'll have to actually step up soon; the Tsar is ignoring General Kutuzov's plan to retreat and insists on fighting Napoleon. Andrei takes a moment to send a note apologizing to Lise for being such a "neglectful" husband, but privately admits he'd give his beloved family up for "one moment of glory." Harsh.

The Battle of Austerlitz sees Napoleon watching from a distance as the Tsar foolishly demands the general to have his troops charge at the French. It's foggy, they're at a disadvantage, and it's no surprise when the French waste no time plowing them down. Andrei hops off his horse and picks up an abandoned flag, waving it triumphantly for a few seconds before taking a bayonet to the back. "That'll do," Napoleon says, and saunters off on his horse.

Andrei's fate is unclear. We see him have an epiphany on the battlefield where he lies among the dead, but his father receives a letter saying that he died in battle. A heartbroken Marya decides to not tell Lise, while the Prince cries alone in his office.

Boris and Nikolai return home to their relieved families. War hero Dolokhov, meanwhile, is headed to Chez Pierre. The Count has since married Helene. He's wasted no time in pawing at her, and she's wasted no time in putting off sex and rejecting his requests for company. She's not pleased to see Dolokhov, the kind of guy who steals meat off his friend's plate and tells women he only likes three things: fighting, drinking, and "I can't remember the only one."

The lady doth protest too much, though. She's been sleeping with Dolokhov behind her husband's back. Pierre gets news of the affair in a letter just before heading off to a banquet in honor of the returning soldiers. There he encounters the gloating Dolokhov, who pushes his luck by toasting to beautiful women and their lovers. Pierre's had it. He stands up and confronts the man who made him a cuckold. "I challenge you," he shouts.

Let the duel begin... next week.

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