The Last Station | DOWN FOR THE COUNTESS Helen Mirren, Anne-Marie Duff, and Paul Giamatti each mourn in their own way in The Last Station
Credit: Stephan Rabold

The challenge and (let’s face it) the hoot of playing formidable ladies with iron wills suit Helen Mirren splendidly these days; she’s making the most of her uniquely poised, feminine bearing, her mature sensuality, and her own status as a Dame of the British Empire — one who doesn’t give a toss about titles. Three years after her triumphant, Oscar-winning performance as a modern British monarch in The Queen, Mirren is magnificent as Countess Sofya — better known as Mrs. Leo Tolstoy — in The Last Station, a grandly entertaining historical drama about the final year of the great Russian writer’s life. Based on the equally entertaining, erudite novel by Jay Parini and adapted and directed by Michael Hoffman (The Emperor’s Club), the movie is at once a hot marital showdown and a cool political debate, a domestic War and Peace. While Count Leo (Christopher Plummer, a boffo choice), living under the sway of a rigid Tolstoyan acolyte named Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), supports anarchy, pacifism, and the abolishment of property rights, Countess Sofya fights, tigress-style, for the security of well-ordered laws regarding copyrights and inheritance — specifically her inheritance from her husband’s estate, which she would lose if Chertkov and his ilk got their way. (The biographical fact is that at the end of his life, 82-year-old Tolstoy fled his family and their demands, making it only as far as the local train station before falling mortally ill.)

The war between Leo and Sofya is filtered through the perceptions of an eager, chaste young man (James McAvoy) who arrives at Tolstoy’s country home to work as the writer’s secretary. He stays to be initiated into lusty manhood by Rome‘s Kerry Condon, playing an attractive young believer in Tolstoyan utopia — a sweet, sexy scene shot, as is the whole refined movie, with an aim to please and a love of sunlight. But as fetching as the young lovers are (McAvoy specializes in playing inexperienced young men who are quick studies), the pair could learn a thing or two about passion from Mirren; at this point the actress can convey fury, tenderness, or voracious will with a mere raise of an eyebrow. B+

The Last Station
  • Movie
  • 100 minutes