This endless snowy weather may have you pining to curl up on the divan with, say, a gigantic Russian novel, brimming with politics and family turmoil. But allow me to offer a similar, if shorter alternative: an entertaining parlor drama about the Russian novelist, and the complications that arise from tensions between his relatives and acolytes of his philosophy.
Michael Hoffman's film recounts the last few months of Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) at his country manor. There, he fights with his passionate wife, Sofya (Helen Mirren), over the ultimate resolution of his lucrative estate. Having founded a movement to reject personal property, Tolstoy, with the sycophantic prodding of his colleague Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), is inclined to leave the rights to his works to the Russian people; Sofya derides such intent as posturing, and argues that his supportive family should benefit. Caught in the middle is Valentin (James McAvoy), a devout Tolstoyan who comes to serve as the master's secretary (as well as double agent for both Chertkov and Sofya).
It's all handsomely filmed, well acted, and chockfull of beguiling landscapes, the quirky interiors of the intelligentsia, and even, attractive clothes. (Count Leo is nonetheless the dashing nobleman, even in drab peasant's garb.) Foreknowledge of Tolstoy, his novels and political edicts isn't necessary: Hoffman, working from Jay Parini's novel, favors domestic crises, so Last Station can be enjoyed as a high-minded period soap opera. Plummer and Mirren have been nominated for Best Actor awards for their work here, and both are a pleasure to watch. Starts Fri., Feb. 19. Manor (Al Hoff) [3 out of 4 stars]