Author Jay Perini discusses film adaptation of The Last Station

Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren in character as Leo Tolstoy and his wife Sofya in The Last Station.


Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren in character as Leo Tolstoy and his wife Sofya in The Last Station.

Juliann Guerra, News Content Editor

The Humanities Institute hosted a showing of The Last Station on Oct. 17.  This film is based on the 1990 biographical novel written by Jay Perini, who was also in attendance.

The film showcases the final months of Leo Tolstoy’s life through the eyes of his private secretary Valentin Bulgakov.

Leo Tolstoy himself was a Russian writer who lived from 1828-1910.  He is regarded as one of the greatest writers of all time and is best known for his novel War and Peace.  In the 1870s, he became a fervent Christian anarchist and pacifist. Over the years he earned more followers as he published more books.

After the movie, the audience was able to ask Perini about his experience writing his novel, his involvement in the movie-making progress, and Tolstoy himself.

The idea for the novel came when Perini found an old diary of Tolstoy’s, which became a large part of his research for his novel.

Perini remarked that he would not have been able to write The Last Station without that diary, saying, “I built from his story”

When asked about his writing process and thoughts on Tolstoy, Perini said, “My research was letters and diaries.  My admiration for Tolstoy grew. I love the late Tolstoy especially. He was writing fiction with less energy, but writing it until the end.”

One audience member asked about Tolstoy’s influence outside of the Bible.

Perini responded, “Buddhism and Hinduism profoundly influenced his thinking.  As well as German Philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer. And theological work was most important to him in the last decades of his life.”

A lot of audience members were intrigued by the process of Perini turning his book into a movie.

 He explained that the movie business is so complicated because money becomes available and unavailable very quickly, actors quit, scenes get cut, and so on.  The process ended up taking 20 years and towards the end, Perini finally had to say it was good enough.

Originally, Meryl Streep was set to play Tolstoy’s wife, Sofya, but had to retract her role because of commitments she made to play Donna Sheridan in the 2008 movie Mamma Mia.

When she quit, Anthony Hopkins, who was set to play Tolstoy, also quit.  They were replaced by Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer.

When asked how Perini thought about his movie with the replacement actors he said, “I think they did a great job.  Meryl Streep actually called me and said she could not do it as well.”

Having the opportunity to watch a movie and talk to the man who wrote the book it was based on is a unique experience the Humanities Institute was able to bring to Saint Anselm College.