I had another favorite moment in the Telluride Film Festival Q&A after the screening of Michael Hoffman’s “The Last Station,” about the last year of Leo Tolstoy’s life. The movie stars Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy, Helen Mirren as his wife, James McAvoy, Paul Giamatti and Kerry Condon.
Ken Burns moderated a discussion with Helen Mirren and director Michael Hoffman. The movie is based on Jay Parini’s novel. One audience member asked Michael Hoffman how he was able to adapt the book, given that it seemed he included all of the most pertinent information from the book.
Michael Hoffman said that initially he’d tried to stay true as much as possible to the facts of the history, however it was only when they allowed themselves to move beyond the facts that they actually found the heart of the story – and herein the emotional resonance with the audience.
I think this is an incredibly important point, because sometimes, especially when we’re working with historical material or material strongly rooted in factual information, within narrative fiction we must still find the thrust to that story, and that thrust should be in the emotional connectivity to the primary characters. This is why it’s critical to have a strong protagonist – because this is the character with whom the audience can connect emotionally. With narrative storytelling, the facts shouldn’t inhibit our ability to create emotional resonance within our characters.