Unplanned Tolstoy family reunion at Telluride Film Festival

Unplanned Tolstoy family reunion at Telluride Film Festival

[click “Play” to hear Susan’s conversation with Sophia Tolstoy Penkrat]


Over Labor Day weekend, Michael Hoffman’s “The Last Station” enjoyed an auspicious world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival.

At the heart of the soaring biopic is a conundrum: author Leo Tolstoy’s (Christopher Plummer) struggle in the last years of his life to balance fame and fortune with a commitment to a life devoid of material possessions. Weighing in for privilege is Tolstoy’s wife of 48 years (and 13 children) Sofya (Helen Mirren). Her opponent in the debate is proto-Communist Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), head of the Tolstoyan movement, a quasi political cult, which advocates pacifism, social equality, vegetarianism, and celibacy. The referee in the pitched battle is Tolstoy’s secretary, Valentin Bulgakov, (James McAvoy).

Handicappers fled from the theatre to their stations to place early Oscar bets on Plummer for his superb naturalistic performance; on Helen Mirren for doing what she does best, playing a sensuous, mercurial, demonstrative, determined female; on James McAvoy, the film’s true protagonist, for his seamless evolution from comically enthusiastic, very green secretary into a complex man with real emotional heft.


When the credits rolled, descendants of the great novelist joined the crowd in spontaneous applause: Sophia Tolstoy Penkrat, associate director, creative projects development at Vanity Fair, and Sophia’s mother, Tatiana (Tanya) Tolstoy Penkrat, who live in America; and Volodya Tolstoy, director of the Tolstoy Family Estate, Yasna Polyana, and his daughter Anastasia, a Russian lit student at Oxford, whose home is Russia, together by chance, not by design.

Fate or serendipity? For the backstory on the real life family drama behind the family drama on the silver screen, click the “play” button and listen to Sophia Penkrat tell her wonderful tale.

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