To Russia with Love; from Her Break on a TV Talent Show to Shakespeare with Judi Dench and the BBC's War and Peace, Jessie Buckley Relishes a Challenge, She Tells Holly Williams

The Evening Standard (London, England), December 16, 2015 | Go to article overview

To Russia with Love; from Her Break on a TV Talent Show to Shakespeare with Judi Dench and the BBC's War and Peace, Jessie Buckley Relishes a Challenge, She Tells Holly Williams


Byline: Holly Williams

IT'S always good dinner chat: 'Have you read War and Peace?'" says Jessie Buckley, star of the new BBC six-part adaptation of Tolstoy's novel, pealing into laughter at the thought of showing off such a highbrow reading appetite. While many viewers will no doubt tune in thinking the telly version will save them at the occasion of such dinner-party chat, it should also inspire people to pick up Tolstoy's doorstopper.

For Andrew Davies's fresh, confident and sexy adaptation co-produced by Harvey Weinstein's company is almost soapily addictive. "War and Peace is about relationships: family relationships, loving relationships, relationships at war it's a really young story as well," says Buckley, part of a cast that reads like a British ones-towatch list: Lily James, James Norton, Tuppence Middleton, Callum Turner, Jack Lowden, Aisling Loftus.

Hollywood's Paul Dano also stars, while Gillian Anderson, Jim Broadbent and Stephen Rea provide grown-up weight to the story of 19th-century Russian aristocrats.

But the 25-year-old Buckley is right that the series focuses on the loves and flaws, ideals and crises of an interconnected group of young people. She plays Marya Bolkonskaya. "She's in quite an oppressive relationship with her father her faith is her survival. She has a real beautiful delicacy about her, like a porcelain vase."

The production, naturally, is wrapped in sumptuous period packaging. The gorgeous cast twirl through giltspangled ballrooms in acres of satin, and ride across sweeping battlefields in miles of gold braid.

The shoot took place over nearly six months in Russia and Lithuania. "It was a really special job. We became a family: the whole cast and crew became really tight." She tells of acquiring a taste for Russian vodka and of ending up in a competitive karaoke battle with the locals, resulting in a full-cast rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Buckley has mostly done theatre, and filming this most lavish of dramas was at times overwhelming. "The first day in St Petersburg we shot a ballroom scene in Catherine the Great's palace with an orchestra I just sat at the side crying."

Such emotional reactions won't surprise anyone who remembers Buckley's first brush with fame. A wide-eyed 17-year-old, her powerful voice knocked Andrew Lloyd Webber sideways on I'd Do Anything, the telly competition to find a Nancy for the musical Oliver! She came second but is still in contact with Lloyd Webber, who's been "a really lovely support".

She's since put a lot of clear blue water between herself and the reality contest, studying at Rada and forging a career performing Shakespeare. Buckley is intellectually and creatively ambitious, on the quiet.

When she got the part of Marya she holed up with Tolstoy's tome in her family's caravan by the sea in Ireland. She feels the urge to escape there sometimes, and also tells stories of running away to Cornwall last year: "I just got on the overnight sleeper, hadn't booked anywhere but I found a shepherd's hut on the edge of a cliff and stayed for a week."

Buckley grew up "at the foot of a mountain" near Killarney in County Kerry, and although she's enthusiastically adopted London as her home she still yearns for the countryside. "I love London but I miss air, I miss space. My dream is to find a mountain where I can live."

Buckley will be back in Ireland for Christmas between performances of The Winter's Tale and Harlequinade, the Kenneth Branagh double-bill she's starring in at the Garrick. "I'm doing a matinee on Christmas Eve so my flight's at 10pm I'm flying home for Christmas. …

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