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Last Station, The
Stars: James McAvoy, Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, Paul Giamatti, Kerry Condon, Anne-Marie Duff, John Sessions, Patrick Kennedy
Director: Michael Hoffman
The last days of the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, and the battle over the rights to his books, are chronicled in this sumptuously photographed (by Sebastian Edschmid) period piece, set in 1910.
While all is apparent peace and tranquillity at the Tolstoys' country home, its grounds devoted to an agricultural commune, inside its walls battle rages. On one side is Shertkov (Giamatti), who, with his shifty assistant, has wheedled his way into the confidence of Tolstoy's icy daughter (Duff).
In the middle are an increasingly dyspeptic Tolstoy (Plummer) himself and his new secretary Valentin (McAvoy), who finds relief from these internal tensions in a carnal relationship with the earthy Masha (Condon), who hurtles into his bed on the first night.
On the other side is Tolstoy's wife Sofia (Mirren), who finds herself infuriatingly ostracised as Giamatti's influence grows, and suspects that her husband may have changed his will.
In spite of his allegiance to Shertkov, who hired him, Valentin finds himself increasingly sympathising with Sofia, who sees her husband of 48 years drifting away from her, and fights the implacable Shertkov like a tigress.
McAvoy grows in stature as the film progresses but, like all the younger players, is overshadowed by the formidably authoritative and emotional performances of the veteran stars, both nominated for Oscars. It's a good film, though you might not be gripped throughout and there are times when the camera pans at too great a length over the scenery.
Plummer and Mirren, however, carve out haunting - and haunted - portrayals that stay in the memory, Mirren in particular running the fiull gamut of emotions - even if she's perhaps allowed one hysterical rant too many.
Germany/Russia/UK 2009. UK Distributor: Optimum. Colour by Kodak.
116 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.
Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.
Review date: 14 Feb 2010