Synopsis

War and Peace

ACT I. Outside the country home of Count Rostov at Otradnoye on a spring evening in 1809. A guest, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, is seen looking from his window, wondering whether the romantic promise of spring is an illusion. At an upstairs window Rostov's daughter, Natasha, unable to sleep, muses with her cousin Sonya on the beauties of nature. Aware that someone is listening, she closes the window, leaving Andrei to realize that his life is not over at thirty-one after all; the girl he has just seen has revived his interest in living.

The following New Year's Eve, at a fashionable ball in St. Petersburg, Maria Akhrosimova welcomes her goddaughter Natasha, her cousin Sonya and Count Rostov. They immediately notice the glamorous Hélène, wife of Pierre Bezukhov, and her dashing brother, Count Anatol Kuragin. Prince Andrei asks Natasha to dance and tells her that he heard her "dreaming aloud" the previous spring. Rostov invites Andrei to call the following Sunday.

Two years later, in February 1812, Rostov brings Natasha, now engaged to Andrei, to the Volkonsky town house in Moscow to meet Andrei's formidable father. The old man does not want to receive them, and Andrei's sister, Princess Maria, handles the situation instead. As the Princess makes awkward conversation, mentioning the threat of war, the old Prince enters, unaware that the callers are there. Insultingly, he mumbles that Andrei can do as he pleases. Maria is upset by her father's behavior, but Natasha realizes he sent Andrei away for a year in hopes of discouraging the marriage. To herself she fumes that Andrei's family has no right to reject her, that she wants him back right away.

In May at the Bezukhov house, Hélène congratulates Natasha on her engagement but confides that her brother Anatol is lovesick over her. Impressed by Hélène's beauty and friendliness, Natasha thinks there can be no harm in such a person. Anatol appears, declares his love, and thrusts a letter in her hand, kissing her before leaving. Flustered, she reads the letter, written in extravagant romantic terms, saying she alone must decide his fate. Because she misses Andrei and is vulnerable in his absence, Natasha is swept off her feet by Anatol. Sonya notices her reaction and warns that Anatol is a scoundrel. Count Rostov, disapproving of the free-and-easy atmosphere, takes the girls home.

At the home of his comrade-in-arms, Lieutenant Dolokhov, Anatol boasts that Natasha has agreed to elope with him. Though Dolokhov ghostwrote Anatol's love letter for him, he disapproves of the elopement, pointing out that there is sure to be trouble, not least because Anatol is already married. Anatol, infatuated, cannot think of the future. When a coachman arrives to take him to his rendezvous, he and Dolokhov rush off into the snowstorm.

Meanwhile, at Maria Akhrosimova's house, Natasha learns from a maid that Sonya has revealed the elopement plans. When Anatole arrives, the footman is under orders to bring him to the lady of the house, but Anatol -- warned by Dolokhov of a trap -- makes his exit. The older woman confronts Natasha with her disgraceful behavior, the result of associating with Hélène. Natasha is defiant. With relief Maria Akhrosimova welcomes Pierre, whom she considers ineffectual but kindhearted, and tells him what has happened; he promises to get Anatol out of Moscow before there is a scandal or a duel. Alone, Pierre admits that he too has found Natasha disturbingly attractive. Natasha, who trusts Pierre, hears him confirm what she has just learned from her godmother: Anatol is already married. Upset by his own feelings toward Natasha, Pierre hurriedly leaves. Believing that her life is ruined, Natasha takes poison in an adjoining room, then calls to Sonya for help.

In his study Pierre confronts Anatol and demands that he leave Moscow -- and even offers him money. Disgusted with his wife, his brother-in-law, and the others, Pierre wishes he could live according to his humanitarian instincts. Lieutenant Colonel Denisov enters with the news that Napoleon's troops are gathering at the front: War is inevitable.

ACT II. On August 25, 1812, before the Battle of Borodino, soldiers dig entrenchments as Denisov enters, looking for Prince Andrei. The soldiers talk of Marshal Kutuzov, who has rallied them by the thousands. Alone for a moment, Andrei reflects on the love he had for Natasha and how foolishly things turned out. Spying Pierre, who has come as a civilian observer, he tells him of his contempt for the German military advisers, who reduce everything to tactics, ignoring the people. Andrei embraces Pierre and says he fears they will not meet again. Pierre leaves as the marshall arrives, greeted by his soldiers. Though Kutuzov asks Andrei to join his staff, Andrei declines, saying he has to lead his own regiment. The opening shots of the battle are heard.

That afternoon, Napoleon surveys the scene and looks forward to conquest. Adjutants enter with urgent reports, and to one of the generals he confides that things have not been going as usual: It is a very hard victory.

Two evenings later, Kutuzov sits in council at a peasant hut with his advisers. After listening to their opinions, he makes the decision to retreat from Moscow, thereby ensuring eventual victory. When he is alone, he reflects on Moscow and what it means to the people; he knows they will rise to the occasion.

A month or so later, during the French occupation of Moscow, Pierre has a fantasy of assassinating Napoleon. From servants in the street he learns that Natasha has been nursing the wounded at her family's country home, and that -- unknown to her -- Andrei is among the injured men. French soldiers and officers, dispirited by the continued resistance of the Russian citizens, take Pierre into custody as a suspicious character. In a group of prisoners he meets Platon Karatayev, a farmer whose stoical attitude symbolizes the people's resolution. The prisoners are led off, and Napoleon arrives with his officers, appalled to see Moscow burning at the hands of its own citizens.

Andrei lies wounded in a hut on the outskirts of the city, wishing he could see Natasha once more. She comes in, and he regrets having discovered the real meaning of life at the moment his own life is ending. She stays at his bedside as he dies.

During the blizzard in November, the French retreat along the Smolensk road with their prisoners, including Pierre and Karatayev. When a guard shoots Karatayev, a partisan ambushes the guard and the French soldiers are overpowered by his comrades. Pierre learns from Denisov that life is beginning to return to Moscow. Kutuzov appears and pronounces Russia saved. He thanks the troops, who cheer him and their victory.