With more than 500,000 words of translated epic novel handily condensed into six hour-long episodes, those yet to read Tolstoy's much-revered work should be thankful that Andrew Davies (who also wrote screenplays for Pride and Prejudice, Bleak House, and Vanity Fair), has managed to give us such a pleasurable, faithful shortcut.

Spanning 15 years, the mini-series follows three aristocratic Russian families through the Napoleonic invasion, and threads the tale together via three key protagonists.

First there is the soulful, spirited Natasha Rostova (Lily James of Downton Abbey), who is young, idealistic, and truly family-oriented when we first meet her, but has many romantic trials to endure.

Second is smart, philosophical, but eccentric Pierre Bezukhov (Paul Dano from Love and Mercy), who is the illegitimate son of Russia's wealthiest man, and ends up inheriting the Earth, only to find himself lost for purpose.


And third is ambitious Prince Andrei Bolkonsky (James Norton of Grantchester), who has a beautiful pregnant wife, but finds the aristocratic social world stifling, and goes looking for fulfilment on the battlefield.

Jim Broadbent stars as Andrei's brusque but loving father, and Gillian Anderson appears as a wealthy socialite, but it's Stephen Rea (The Honourable Woman), who is most entertaining as the endlessly scheming Prince Vassily Kuragin.

Also among the cast are Adrian Edmondson, Greta Scacchi, Brian Cox and French star Matthieu Kassovitz as Napoleon.

It's a little odd hearing the entire cast speak with proper English accents, but this is a BBC adaptation after all, and fans of Downton should feel at home with the storylines of life in the drawing rooms of Moscow and St Petersburg, spliced with life on the battlefield during the French invasion.

Where and when: On Lightbox, now
What: Lavish, large, melodramatic adaptation