Vague, Passionate and Erratic: The Last Station
by Binoy Kampmark
“Tomorrow, I’ll go to the station and lie down on the track. Tolstoy’s wife becomes Anna Karenina herself. See how the papers will like that!”
Countess Sofya (Helen Mirren) to Leon Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer), The Last Station (2009)
In Michael Hoffman’s The Last Station, a portrayal over the last days of Leo Tolstoy’s life and a battle over the disposition of his estate and copyright to his works, politics and personalities clash. The wily aide and pejoratively labelled ‘catamite’ Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), who sees himself as more Tolstoyan than Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer), faces off with Countess Sofya (Helen Mirren) over how the great author shall share his legacy. Everyone seems to be scribbling notes in an effort to record the last days of an era. Be it doctor or secretary, the latter played by James McAvoy, there is a furious relaying of all that is said, irrespective of how noteworthy it might actually be. ‘In the beginning, there was the word…’
Parts of this effort by Hoffman are barely believable, though it all comes down to what viewers are expecting. Reviewers have found the scene when Countess Sofya’s desperate attempt to woo Tolstoy with the lines ‘I’m your chicken, you be my big cock!’ desperate and cringe worthy. Tim Roby of The Telegraph (Feb 18), is merely being cranky, though he is right to point out that the carnival, stage element never quite escapes this film. For many, that will be a more than sufficient digestive. Something might have been made about the black and white footage that is shown at the end of the film, featuring a Christ-like Tolstoy engaging in his labours. We are left wondering.