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Leo Tolstoy’s literary classic War and Peace dates back to 1869, which doesn’t exactly make it an alluring read for modern audiences.
However, the creative team behind A+E Networks’ forthcoming remake promise that the remake is “sexy” while also remaining true to the source material.
“It is faithful to the book,” director Tom Harper told reporters Wednesday at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour. “The energy that we’ve tried to bring to it is very much for a modern audience. We try to make it feel fresh and vibrant.”
Harper called the book a “timeless” tale that is, at its core, a love story. “It comes down to the key character stories and the love triangle between these three actors,” he continued.
Executive Harvey Weinstein, a fan of the book since a childhood accident left him with an injured eye and unable to attend school, praised writer Andrew Davies: “He makes War and Peace sexy. You’ll see that it is.”
The book is known for its length — coming in at more than 1,000 pages — while the miniseries runs for six hours over three nights. Due to the amount of material, star Paul Dano acknowledged the giant task on hand for the writers, director and actors. “There is a trepidation to doing War and Peace,” he said. “It’s scary in a good way.”
Dano said he and his castmates looked to the source material for help frequently. “There were a lot of us with our books on set referring to passages. It’s part of your homework,” the actor said. “Tolstoy gifted all of us with an incredible amount of insight.”
Harper said trimming the material down to six hours wasn’t as daunting as it might seem. “You can take a two-page passage that can be conveyed in one small glance by an actor,” he said. “It could have been longer, but I think part of the process is editing. … You realize you can be more concise with your storytelling.”
Although star James Norton said writer Andrew Davies (who was not present on the panel) originally wanted to try and condense the project to four hours, Weinstein embraced a slightly longer format.
“You can’t do War and Peace in four hours. We’re lucky we did it in as many hours as we did,” said Norton. “The great thing about television today is you can do great work and you have time to tell the story properly.”
Weinstein hopes that the project, which has already premiered to strong ratings overseas, will “inspire a whole new generation” to read Tolstoy’s work. “I think the series will make people read the book,” he said.
War and Peace premieres Jan. 18 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime, A+E and History.
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