Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and shot on location in Italy at a cost of $6 million, War and Peace weighs in at 208 minutes.
The money was certainly well spent on the battle scenes – notably Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow – which are epic, authentic and visually spectacular, but the film’s sprawling narrative fails to gel.
Focussed around Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia, the movie adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel follows the lives of three aristocratic Russians – Natasha (Audrey Hepburn), Pierre (Henry Fonda) and Bolkonsky (Mel Ferrer) over the course of 15 years.
The intimate scenes lack bite, and a motley conglomeration of accents from a multinational cast – including Vittorio Gassman, John Mills and Anita Ekberg – strains credibility.
Audrey Hepburn – in only her third film since Roman Holiday (1953) – calls on her blend of innocence, vulnerability and inner strength to overcome the limp screenplay, which required the input of six writers.
Henry Fonda is miscast and too old to play Pierre, and Hepburn’s real-life husband Mel Ferrer gives a wooden performance as Prince Andrei.
The vast battle scenes were later dwarfed by the six-hour 1966 Soviet version.
Prince Andrei Bolkonsky
General Mikhail Kutuzov
Prince Mikhail Andreevich Rostov