In case you (somehow) missed it, War and Peace was shown on BBC One a few weeks ago, and I’m still not over how good it was. The casting, the cinematography, the music – all brilliant. Yet this adaption of the novel did have one major difference to the original: a happy ending. Be warned, spoilers ahead!
In Tolstoy’s novel, the epilogue gives a glimpse of the characters’ futures, all of which seem very bleak. There’s jealously, suffering and cruelness, which isn’t exactly the fate you want for the characters you’ve invested 1,225 pages in. But in the TV adaption, the ending is much more idyllic, with a family picnic where everyone’s smiling and cheery. Even Sonya looks happy, and she’s sitting with the love of her life and his wife. Some people may be upset it didn’t follow the book, and perhaps I don’t mind as much as I’ve never read the book myself, but I’m glad I got a happy ending, they’ve become so under-rated.
Now I’m not saying we should Hollywood-glamour every ending so that no one ever sheds a tear. Sometimes films or books need to be gritty and hard-hitting in order to be realistic, or to convey a message. However a happy ending shouldn’t be avoided just because you worry about it being clichéd. As I’m sure many who were watching War and Peace also agree, I tuned into the programme on Sunday nights as a way to relax and switch off before the week ahead. So I wasn’t really after realistic, I was after warm and fuzzy. Though the programme did somehow manage to kill off an array of characters in the last episode, the picnic scene meant it was left on a much more optimistic note.
Perhaps this highlights a key difference between television and books. I’ve always thought being an author was profoundly selfish, which is perhaps why I aspire to be one… Writers often choose the ending they want, as they’re not aware of an audience when they’re scribbling away, so therefore can do as they please (well until the publishers turn up perhaps). Yet with TV or film, it always is very aware of its audience, having to focus on ratings and reviews a lot more. This means often an ending is given that viewers are best pleased with. I mean, I’m not a literary or film critic, so I may be entirely wrong in my analysis, but I’ve always found happy endings a lot less common amongst books than TV or film.
What’s wrong with a happy ending anyway? If you’ve seen these characters developed, surely you want the best for them? At the end of the 6 episodes, it’s no fun if everyone is just as miserable at the end as they were at the start. An upsetting ending is not edgy or artsy if it’s used just for the sake of it, as it simply annoys the audience. Just once in a while I’d like a ‘and they all lived happily ever after…’
So hats off to War and Peace, who showed us just how brilliant a happy ending can be.
Follow this link to watch War and Peace!
Article by Jennifer Richards