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James Norton: ‘War and Peace is a big old soap opera!’

(Image credit: BBC/Robert Viglasky)

Sex, scandal, death, infidelity, and even a hint of incest feature in BBC1’s star-studded retelling of Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel War & Peace.

James Norton, star of the new six-part series, told What’s on TV on the set of the lavish production earlier this year: “War & Peace is a big old soap opera that happens to be set in the 1800s. Once you get past the dry beginning, it’s brilliant! There is a lot of intensity. It’s about revenge, jealousy and people falling in and out of love. It’s the perfect portrayal of humanity set against this aristocratic backdrop during the Napoleonic War.”

The star of Grantchester and Happy Valley plays cynical Prince Andrei Bolkonsky. When we meet him in Sunday’s opening episode, Andrei is eager to get away from his clingy, pregnant wife, Lisa. So he dumps her with his sweet sister, Marya, and peculiar father, Prince Nikolai Bolkonsky (Jim Broadbent), to join General Kutuzov (Brian Cox) on the battlefield.

Meanwhile, Andrei’s best friend Pierre Bezukhov (Paul Dano) goes from being a social outcast to the most eligible bachelor in St Petersburg, when his father dies and leaves his illegitimate son a vast fortune. But little do Andrei and Pierre know how deeply they’ll be tested by their blossoming love for captivating, life-loving Natasha Rostova (Downton Abbey’s Lily James) over the coming years…

James said: “Andrei changes so radically in War & Peace. He goes from being horribly cynical, bloodthirsty and glory seeking into a kind of depression," explained James. "Then he falls in love, goes on to a high and then crashes again!"

Other big names joining the glossy, sexed up adaptation include Gillian Anderson, Adrian Edmondson, Rebecca Front, Tom Burke, and Stephen Rea.

War & Peace premieres on BBC1 on Sunday, January 3 at 9pm.