The Last Station

The Last Station tells the story of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy's (Plummer) final years – his struggles with his tempestuous wife Sofya (Mirren); his yearning for peace and solitude; his commitment to fairer distribution of wealth, and the battle over the control of his literary estate (Sofya demands to keep hold of it; Tolstoy's religiously devoted follower Vladimir Chertkov – Giamatti - wants the works to belong to "the Russian people").

All this is largely viewed through the eyes of one young starstruck follower, Valentin Bulgakov (McAvoy). As well as getting caught in the domestic and ideological cross-fire whilst working as the great writer's secretary, he also begins a love affair of his own that will prove as all-consuming as Tolstoy and Sofya's.

The Last Station is adapted by Hoffman, who also directs, from Jay Parini's novel. The writing is a little hit and miss; as is often the case with biopics, biographical nuggets feel shoehorned in, and political theories are announced rather clunkily. While Hoffman leavens the conventional costume drama, lit-pic stuffiness that could weigh the film down with some understated comic moments in the first half, this good work is partly undone by the heavy-handed music. However, Hoffman gets much out of his stellar cast in the troubled emotional relationships, allowing plenty of room for the notion that love can be both impossibly wonderful and sometimes just downright impossible.

The naive and nervous young virgin Bulgakov verges on silly at the start of the film, but McAvoy brings enough nuance to the role to carry it off, especially in the delicately tender romantic scenes with free-loving fellow Tolstoyan Masha (a radiant Condon). Likewise the affection and still-glowing embers of love and sexual desire between Plummer and Mirren mean that despite Sofya's drama queen hissy fits and histrionics, you can't help rooting for a final love-conquers-all moment.

Official Site
The Last Station at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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