In 2009, moviegoers who may have only remembered Russian author Leo Tolstoy from English class became reacquainted with the writer through the film “The Last Station,” which starred “Beginners” actor Christopher Plummer as the author and Helen Mirren of “The Hundred-Foot Journey” as his wife Sofya.
“Station” is based on Jay Parini’s novel about Tolstoy, which has the same title, and takes place during the final year in the life of the author. With Tolstoy so close to death, the author’s editor Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) and others are trying to convince him to sign a new contract that would have all his works be in the public domain. These events are witnessed by the writer’s secretary, Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy).
Both Plummer and Mirren were nominated for Oscars for their roles – Best Supporting Actor and Best Actress, respectively – and the movie received mostly positive reviews, with “Station” currently holding a score of 76 out of 100 on the review aggregator website Metacritic. Monitor critic Peter Rainer wrote that the movie itself “isn’t all that it should be, but whenever these two actors [Plummer and Mirren] are onscreen, it’s like a great night at the theater… one of the terrific things about writer-director Michael Hoffman’s 'The Last Station' is that, as Christopher Plummer plays him, the old master is, of all things, a recognizable human being… Sofya [is] played with ravenous theatricality by Helen Mirren.”
Many critics agreed that Plummer and Mirren were the reason to see the film, with Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers writing, “The incomparable Mirren is simply astounding. And Plummer… is her match. The sight of these two acting giants going at each other should come under the heading of pure, rowdy pleasure. The film itself, energetically directed and written by Michael Hoffman, can't always rise to the level of its two dynamo stars.” And while Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday found that “the operatic emotional pitch ultimately proves unsustainable (not to mention tiresome),” she wrote that “the film is full of captivating details” and “it's easy to see why [Mirren received an Oscar nomination… Mirren and Plummer are wonderful together.”
Meanwhile, Plummer told the Telegraph that one of his requests to director Michael Hoffman was “please, let’s not make [Tolstoy] a museum piece.”