This beautifully made drama centres on the last days of Russian author Leo Tolstoy's (Plummer) life. Married to Countess Sofya (Mirren) for almost 50 years, theirs is a complicated, passionate relationship made all the more contentious by Tolstoy's desire to reject wealth and materialism.
As her husband becomes increasingly distant, Sofya discovers, or at least suspects (correctly), that his most trusted disciple Vladimir Chertkov (Giamatti) wants him to sign a second will, leaving the rights to his works to the Russian people.
Into this volatile situation comes Valentin Bulgakov (McAvoy) a young, idealistic Tolstoyan who is employed as Tolstoy's assistant. He reluctantly becomes a double agent, keeping track of the countess for Chertkov, while reporting to the countess on what Chertkov does.
In one scene Sofya tells Valentin she copied out War and Peace six times by hand and used to offer advice when Tolstoy was writing. It seems her husband listened to her views and that his work was really a collaboration between the two of them, an extension of their relationship. Suddenly, she no longer seems like a woman grasping at a fortune for herself and her children but a wife trying to hold on to a piece of the life she shared with the man she loved.
Mirren and Plummer have been nominated for Oscars for their roles and they're both fantastic. It's real old-school, powerhouse acting and the film is definitely at its best when they're on screen. Mirren, so beautiful in this, deserves her nomination not for the scenes when Sofya loses her head (it happens a lot) but the quiet moments when her love for her difficult husband is achingly evident.
McAvoy is as likeable as always as his character journeys from wide-eyed enthusiasm for the cause to disappointment, to finally a real emotional connection with his mentor. He falls in love along the way too, with a free-spirited soul, Masha (played by Tipperary woman Kerry Condon).
When Mr and Mrs Tolstoy aren't around, things are somewhat dull and the film drags a bit as the battle between Sofya and Chertkov gets replayed, but in the final scenes the film comes alive again, full of emotion and some great, heartbreaking acting from its stars. HHHII