Review: The Last Station

**** (M)

Director Michael Hoffman.

Cast: Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren, James McAvoy, Paul Giamatti, Kerry Condon.

THE final days of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy provide the backdrop for this well-crafted look at love and serve as a platform for some brilliant performances from a top-shelf cast of award-winning actors.

McAvoy stars as Valentin Bulgakov, his new secretary, appointed by Tolstoy's followers to assist the writer but also to spy on Tolstoy's wife, the Countess Sophia (Mirren).

Sophia is fearful of a new will that his followers - the commune-dwelling vegetarian Tolstoyans - want the author to sign, as it will wipe out the copyright to his works and place them in the public domain, taking future income away from Tolstoy's family.

The warring factions, which amounts to the Countess versus everyone, provide an interesting plot that gives the film its tension, but the real fascination comes from Tolstoy, who proves to be an intriguing character.

Don't let the imminent death of the guy who wrote War & Peace put you off - this is actually a surprisingly cheery film in between the plate-smashing rows. The Last Station shines a light on the turbulent relationship between Tolstoy and Sophia and the love that holds them together, as well as a burgeoning romance between Valentin and fellow Tolstoyan Masha (Condon).

Plummer is perfectly cast as the novelist, bringing not only gravitas to the role of the dying writer, but also a gentle humour and a well-rounded sense of him being a real person and not just the icon his followers tried to make him out to be.

The performance from Plummer is one of the highlights of the film, but equally good is the always superb triumvirate of Mirren, McAvoy and Giamatti.

Filled with stellar acting and intriguing characters, The Last Station is a measured and thoughtful drama that's nowhere near as depressing as you'd think.

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