THE LAST STATION
Anton Chekhov’s novella “My Life” reads like the first half of Leo Tolstoy’s life. A socially rebellious youth from a wealthy family who rejects the privileges of his class, denounces his education and sets out to make a life for himself amongst the working people. THE LAST STATION, however, is concerned only with the great man’s final days, more concerned, perhaps, than the great man himself. The film, like the ardent young Tolstoyans who hang on his every word, seeks to preserve his legacy even when Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) isn’t so sure what that is. Like Christians who follow the Bible to the letter, he is disappointed, it seems, or perhaps bewildered that his friends and believers obey ideals he once advocated for like abstinence, for example, when he himself doesn’t hesitate to make love to his wife.
True, she has to practically beg for it and Helen Mirren does a tremendous job as Sofya, Tolstoy’s wife and companion of nearly 50 years. But make no mistake, even though the film begins and ends with Tolstoy, it’s Mirren who steals the show. She is at once jealous, enraged and selfish and also deceived, ignored and betrayed. She is both the manipulator and the manipulated and Mirren handles her complicated role with such dexterity and nuance that she, singlehandedly, I’d argue, manages to transform the film into something far more interesting than the straightforward biopic it would have been without her. The other actors are good – Paul Giamatti is impish and ornery and Paul McAvoy is perfectly sweet and naïve. And Plummer hardly has to do anything but be the great big 80-year-old presence he already is. But as good as they are, they’re merely foils to Mirren’s on screen prowess. Luckily for the film, she’s in most of the scenes.