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Winter 2016's Best New TV Bets: 'War & Peace,' 'Legends of Tomorrow'

With 2016 in full swing, TV is back in action and Eclectic Pop has highlighted the two best new bets from the winter line-up. First up is the American broadcast of BBC's adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace."

"War and Peace"

The latest adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s much beloved novel is this BBC produced mini-series, which features an all-star ensemble of international talent. The cast is led by “Cinderella” star Lily James, acclaimed “Love and Mercy” actor Paul Dano, and rounded out by cult favorite Gillian Anderson (“The X-Files”, “The Fall”).

They are not the only big names starring in this adaptation. “War and Peace” features just about every actor who’s already made a mark or is primed to.  Oscar winner Jim Broadbent, Oscar nominee Stephen Rae, revered thespian Brian Cox, rising British talent James Norton and fan fave “White Queen” actor Aneurin Barnard, also star.

For those unfamiliar with the plotline, Tolstoy’s epic tome follows the tangled lives of five (5) aristocratic Russian families as they face the life-altering tides of war and home-born conflict. The series will be broken up into four (4) parts, each running two (2) hours. Every piece will be simulcast on three (3) networks: A and E, History Channel and Lifetime. The premiere installment debuted this week and it was a compelling watch.

The digital cinematography and ambitious camera work takes some getting used to. While the blinding lighting is much more difficult to get past, as it constantly overpowers the color palette of every scene with a snowy wash that drains every ounce of warmth that tries to emerge. The lack of authentic Russian accents being utilized is another distraction one must overlook.

The opening hour mainly focused on Dano’s Pierre and James Norton’s Andrei. Dano’s casting is pitch perfect, as he captures the newly appointed Count’s bustling intellect, awkward social graces and tender heart, to magnificent effect. An impressive early breakout among the high-profile cast is Tuppence Middleton, whose flashy role as the scandalous Helene oozes all of the requisite dark charm and vixen-y cunning, one would hope to see exuded in such a portrayal.

Hers is a scene stealing role and she plays it for all its worth. After showing great promise with her roles in the movies: “Tormented”, “Chatroom” and “Trap for Cinderella”; it’s nice to see her getting the chance to command such a character.

For anyone wondering how the mini-series compares to King Vidor’s sweeping 1956 adaptation starring Audrey Hepburn as the vivacious Natasha and Henry Fonda and Mel Ferrer as Pierre and Andrei, respectively; the answer is it’s too soon to tell. Vidor’s had all of the hallmarks of a grandiose classic, though the miscasting of Fonda is too glaring to ignore, as it cut into the film’s quality exponentially.

Viewers have yet to see much of Lily James’ Natasha so there’s much more in store to see before making a firm comparison. So far 2016’s “War & Peace” can be credited for imbuing a modern stylistic edge to its classical foundation. That said, the long shadow cast by 2015’s banner showcase of costume dramas has given it a strong comparative context to overcome.

When to Watch: Mondays at 9/8c