Last Station, The: Starring Helen Mirren as Tolstoy's Wife

In Michael Hoffman's new film, "The Last Station," a tale of the final years of Leo Tolstoy, Helen Mirren plays the part of Sofya, the impassioned wife of the magisterial Russian writer (played by Christopher Plummer).


She enjoys a passionate, highly charged relationship with the writer and is locked in a mighty struggle for his soul. Ranged against her is the most zealous of all the “Tolstoyans,” Chertkov (Paul Giamatti). He believes with all his heart that Tolstoy’s legacy should be bestowed upon the Russian people, while Sofya is absolutely resolved that her husband’s estate should pass to his family after his death. The most titanic fight for the writer’s inheritance unfolds.


Mirren's Russian Heritage


Mirren, who deservedly won the Best Actress Oscar for her regal performance in The Queen, begins by declaring that she immediately felt an affinity with her character in The Last Station because they share a Russian heritage. “It’s in my blood,” she smiles. “My great great grandmother was a Russian countess. That side of my family was Russian aristocracy and the other was English working-class. So I’m a good contradiction!”


Beyond that, the actress was drawn to Sofya because, “the moment I read it, I thought, ‘this is one of the great women’s roles in film. So often women’s roles could be described as ‘long-suffering’, but Sofya is the opposite of long-suffering! She doesn’t suffer anyone for any length of time. She is a wonderfully tempestuous and passionate person. She’s also very funny. It’s a fabulous role. Whatever scene she’s in, Sofya simply dominates. That’s very nice to play. She just comes in, hijacks a situation and takes it over with passion and charm.”


Epic Tug of War


That passion manifests itself in the epic tug of war with Chertkov over Tolstoy’s bequest. Helen explains that, “Tolstoy and Sofya are coming to the end of their life and their 48-year-old marriage. They’re caught in a battle for what will happen to his inheritance – his copyright, his estate and his money. The present-day Tolstoy family are very grateful to Sofya because she fought very hard to keep the estate in the family – and to this day it is still there.


“She was fighting for her rights because she’d given her life to Tolstoy’s work. She copied War and Peace out six times – think of the work! She was very much involved in all his work, so the novels belonged to her, too. Nowadays in a similar situation where a couple get divorced and the wife has been supportive throughout the marriage, by law the husband has to give her half of what he owns because she’s helped him achieve that. It’s exactly the same with Sofya and Tolstoy. She is simply fighting for what she is owed.”


Mirren, who also delivered marvellous performances in State of Play, Inkheart, Prime Suspect,

Elizabeth I, Calendar Girls, Gosford Park, Last Orders, and The Madness of King George, continues that she was also magnetized by the grand passion between Sofya and Tolstoy that Michael Hoffman’s screenplay conjures up. “Michael has written a superb screenplay and he’s making a marvelous film. You don’t often get to read wonderful scripts and this really is a wonderful script.


About Love


“The film is all about love – young love and old love. It shows the practicalities and the disasters that love can involve. I have a few favorite lines as Sofya. At one point, for example, Tolstoy says to her, ‘why do you have to make it so difficult?’ and she replies, ‘why should it be easy? I’m the work of your life and you’re the work of mine – that’s what love is.’ That’s a great line.”

The actress has adored her scenes with Plummer. “I’ve known Christopher for a long time – he was in a film called Dolores Claiborne that my husband (Taylor Hackford) directed. He’s a marvelous actor. He’s an actor in my tradition who’s worked both on film and on stage. It’s been terrific working with him.”


In Praise of Germany


Mirren praises Germany, and especially the Saxony-Anhalt region where much of the film has been shot. “I’ve never spent a long period of time in Germany before, but it’s great. We arrived in winter and watched this wonderful spring develop. It’s very, very beautiful. Apparently I’ve invented the idea of ‘Sexy Anhalt’. I like that. Anhalt is pretty sexy. It’s gorgeous!”