The Last Station


The Last Station

Critics Consensus

Michael Hoffman's script doesn't quite live up to its famous subject, but this Tolstoy biopic benefits from a spellbinding tour de force performance by Helen Mirren.



Total Count: 144


Audience Score

User Ratings: 20,681
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Set in the last tumultuous years of famed Russian author Leo Tolstoy's life, centers on the battle for his soul waged by his wife Sofya Andreyevna and his leading disciple Vladimir Cherkov. Torn between his professed doctrine of poverty and chastity and the reality of his enormous wealth, his thirteen children and a life of hedonism, Tolstoy makes a dramatic flight from his home. Too ill to continue beyond the tiny rail station at Astapovo, he believes that he is dying alone, while over one hundred newspapermen camp outside awaiting hourly reports on his condition.


Helen Mirren
as Sofya Tolstoy
Anne-Marie Duff
as Sasha Tolstoy
James McAvoy
as Valentin Bulgakov
Paul Giamatti
as Vladimir Chertkov
Patrick Kennedy
as Sergeyenko
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News & Interviews for The Last Station

Critic Reviews for The Last Station

All Critics (144) | Top Critics (40) | Fresh (101) | Rotten (43)

  • With all of its faults, The Last Station will satisfy even those only slightly familiar with the works of Leo Tolstoy and the time in which he lived

    Jan 12, 2018 | Full Review…

    Ed Koch

    The Atlantic
    Top Critic
  • Literature lasts, but sometimes, The Last Station suggests, the ties that bind last, too.

    Mar 18, 2010 | Rating: 3/4
  • Some critics have derided the central performances as scenery-chewing excess, but these Tolstoys are characters who demand histrionics, and Mirren and Plummer are magnificent in delivering on those demands.

    Mar 2, 2010 | Full Review…
  • The Last Station is a moving, fictionalized account of a piece of real Russian history, a tour de force for an actor who's in his prime in his 70s and 80s, and a real return to form for a director most at home in period pieces.

    Feb 24, 2010 | Rating: 3.5/4
  • Engaging performers all, but the movie's superficial flummery is slightly exasperating when the true-life events would have provided an even richer palette of ideas.

    Feb 19, 2010 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
  • A comforting, Sunday-night costume drama, with some epic performances.

    Feb 19, 2010 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…

    Kevin Maher

    Times (UK)
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Last Station

  • Aug 26, 2013
    I was really impressed by this film....not only by the way this story from history was told, but by the actors as well. Christopher Plummer was absolutely wonderful in the role of Tolstoy. Helen Mirren is a fantastic actress, and is terrific as Tolstoy's wife of many years.. James McAvoy was great as Tolstoy's assistant. All in all a really well done film, with a wonderful lesson in Russian history.
    Cynthia S Super Reviewer
  • Dec 24, 2011
    Any chance to see Helen Mirren work is worth the price of admission. "The Last Station" is a tour de force for Miren in full bloom - a force of nature that can't be denied, elevating what would have been a rather pedestrian and unsatisfactory period piece to moments of brilliance. It's not that her co-stars Christopher Plummer (as Tolstoy), and Paul Giamatti (as the leader behind the "Tolstoy movement") don't hold their own, and really, the acting in this film is more than passable, but make no mistake, this is Mirren's film. Mirren plays the countess, married for over 40 years to "the great man" Tolstoy, a national icon, who in his senior years begins ruminating on the class system and entitlement of the rich. With guidance from Giamatti he begins a movement that rejects religion as well as the accumulation of wealth - to the point where he wants to change his will, thereby giving the complete rights of his "intellectual property" - in other words royalties from his novels - to "the people", something that goes against the grain with the countess, who not only wants to look after the well being of their children and grand children, but is irked by not being recognized for helping Tolstoy write the books to begin with. So there you have the gist of the story. Giamatti is the snake, trying to convince Tolstoy to "do the right thing" and donate his works to the people (and thus further solidifying his own position as the head of Tolstoyism - an odd and evolving manifesto that no-one really seems to have a firm grasp of). He is of course at loggerheads with Mirren, who is alternately compliant to her husband, but demanding of his attention. She rants, raves, cajoles, entreats, flirts - whatever is necessary to get Tolstoy's attention and feel his love. You could have a tight little story here, but the film shoots at something larger, including the story of a young "secretary", brought in by Giamatti to spy on the countess, while aiding Tolstoy in getting his affairs in order. The young man lives in a commune set up on the far reaches of Tolstoy's estate, and there he falls for the commune school teacher. I suppose that this affair is supposed to contrast the "old love" that Tolstoy and the Countess have for one another with the new, fresh love of the secretary and teacher - but, like so much in the film, seems empty and gratuitous. At the core, the film's real failure comes at the beginning and the end. On the front end you have a quote from Tolstoy that everything he has written comes from his knowledge of love. Nice quote, but really, it's just a sound byte and you can believe it if you care to... but what comes next is really galling - the film proclaims, in large lettering, that Tolstoy was the greatest novelist ever. Ok, by whose standards, and really, how can you quantify "greatness" in an art form? That bit alone took me a lot to get past - and Mirren does a great job of making me forget it, until the ending hits you like a melodramatic ton of bricks. Again, Mirren does a great job with what she's given here, but the tag with the reuniting of the secretary and the school teacher seemed so.... tidy (and unnecessary). Another little scab I'd like to pick at - why is it that virtually every period piece requires a shot of a steam train bustling through an idyllic countryside? I swear I've seen virtually the same shot in at least ten films (and I'm not talking about the necessary train ride that gives the film its title here - the "money" shot comes early in the film). In actuality, this film comes off more as a theatrical play - and perhaps would be better suited to the boards, where it becomes all about performance (something this has in spades), rather than content.
    paul s Super Reviewer
  • Dec 07, 2011
    He's an 81 year old Canadian, and Christopher Plummer is still knockin' out accents like nobody's business, and meanwhile, me and my young self can't stretch too far without my leg locking up. Hey, Chris Plummer is so awesome, I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out that he was absorbing our lifeforce with his movies. Yeah, I don't talking about either; I only watched this for James McAvoy, because, come on, it's James McAvoy. He made the story of Idi Amin a charming and delightful tale... before they started torturing and mutilating people. As impossible as it is to not want to hang out with good ol' Jimmy, his stories get pretty dark, so you're going want to bail before Helen Mirren busts out that gun we saw in the rather misleading trailer, because as we all learned from "Red", you do not want to get in the sights of Helen Mirren when she has a gun, or else you'll end up going head-to-head against some laser-shooting hamster vampires she released by shooting the lock off of a safe filled with them, or at least that's where I think "Red" goes, because although I haven't really seen the film, the moment you bring in Ernest Borgnine and really expect us to believe that he really is actually still alive and in decent shape, then you've thrown logic completely out of the window. Wow, I'm suppose to be talking about a film about the final days of a legendary Russian novelist, and within five sentences, I've already discussed youth absorbtion, laser-shooting hamster vampires and Ernest Borgnine's still being alive an implausibility. Well kids, don't get too excited, because I'm only making this stuff up to make this film sound more exciting. Now, the film isn't a snoozefest, or maybe not after seeing as boring as "Melancholia". Still, the film is often rather slow and somewhat quiet, maybe not to a tedious extent, but certainly to an uninteresting extent. Considering its Oscar Bait status, it should come as no surprise that this film will often fail at holding your attention, but not very unengaging Oscar Bait films will be this underdeveloped or rushed in storytelling. Now, the film isn't entirely devoid of development, nor is its storytelling at the poor level of, say, "Heavenly Creatures", where so much is covered so speedily and messily that by the time you have any resemblence of investment in anything going on, it's right on next to the other one-dimensional, tediously slowly paced and poorly written segment of the story that's riddled with despicable characters. Oh sorry, I got caught up in critisizing that overrated pile of garbage; but anyways, the point is that this film is rather rushed and stands to be more developed, making lack of engagement even worse. Still, for every moment you slip out on the film, you can always rely on another good clean shot of charm to pull you back in and keep the film going. However, outside of fine production designs, decent dialogue and some pretty darn high emotional resonance towards the end, there's not much to the film, but what is consistently great and really carries this film through and through are, of course, the performers. James McAvoy is as boomingly charming of a force as he usually is, but as much as I've only been praising him for his charisma, - man - the guy can act like nobody's business. Before the film even hits the fourteen minute mark, he blows you away when he first meets Tolstoy, the most celebrated novelist in the world at that time, and finds that he is only interested in the story behind his new employee and long-time fan; and with solid emotional work and a powerful atmosphere, McAvoy nails that sensation of meeting such a respectable figure and realizing just how good of a person they are. It's "The Last King of Scotland" all over again, where everyone's losing it over McAvoy's castmates, not realizing that the real star is McAvoy himself, and likfe "The Last King of Scotland", McAvoy carries his role as lead and avatar for the audience effortlessly with charisma and presence carrying him the whole way through. However, also like "The Last King of Scotland", McAvoy is not the only great performance in this film, and no matter how much you're drawn back to the screen whenever McAvoy occupies it, just about all of the same praise can be given to Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren. As I said earlier, Plummer is still killing those accents dead, but that's not the only thing about Leo Tolstoy that Plummer nails, as he manages to play up every ounce of charm, every ounce of emotion and every ounce of layer to his role that he ultimately transforms into the legend, and watching Plummer give this solid portrayal of Tolstoy is an experience in it of itself. The same, if not a little bit more can be said about Helen Mirren, who accomplishes the insanely difficult task of taking a potentally unlikable character and summoning true, powerful compellingness and incite into her side of the story; and as Sophya Tolstaya's story unravels you find yourself question what's really going on and who's really the bad guy in all of this with her stellar emoting that's matched only by her stellar atmosphere. There's not a single performance that's bad, or even below excellent in this film, and watching these incredible actors tell this not-always-captivating story and carry it to many highs in charm, as well as extremely high emotional resonance in the later acts make the film worth watching. At the end of the day, the train that is this film barrels bumpily along, leaving lulls of engagement behind it on its path, but the tracks stay strongly intact, held together by fine production and charm, but most of all, the incredible lead performances that ultimately leave "The Last Station" to stand as a charming, when not touching, though consistently fascinating account on the final days of the legendary Leo Tolstoy. Okay, train puns aside, this thing barely has anything to do with a train. I mean, a big key theme towards the end of the film has to do with trains, but really, come on Jay Parini; you couldn't have come up with anything better than that? 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Apr 29, 2011
    Reminiscent of a Chekhov play, "The Last Station" is a witty and endearing exploration of the perils of fame and hero worship.(That having been said, can I still worship Helen Mirren? Because she does some tremendous work here.) Case in point, Leo Tolstoy(Christopher Plummer, not bad himself). This is 1910, towards the end of a long and fruitful writing career with the fight having just started for his legacy. In one corner is Vladimir Chertkov(Paul Giamatti), high priest of the Tolstoyans, a movement in favor of peace and sharing the wealth(But apparently not birth control.), currently under house arrest in Moscow.(It speaks to the high regard the people hold Tolstoy in, that the Csarist authorities leave him alone.) He wants Tolstoy to give any future royalties to the people and sends Valentin(James McAvoy) in his stead as Tolstoy's new secretary, asking him to write everything down for posterity. Valentin is incredibly nervous at meeting his hero but finds an incredibly down to earth man who talks about sex a lot which is a subject Valentin is totally lacking experience in. At least, Masha(Kerry Condon) can help him with chopping wood. Sofya(Helen Mirren), Tolstoy's long suffering wife, could have told him that he was no saint, as she seeks to reclaim the man she loves, and now has to share with so many, not to mention keep the royalties in the family.
    Walter M Super Reviewer

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