The Last Station is an interesting, well-acted and poignant film about the last year in the life of the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy.
In 1910 Count Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) is perhaps the worlds most celebrated writer. He is also the guru of a movement called the Tolstoyans whose members believe in the abolition of private property, pacifism, vegetarianism, sexual abstinence, dressing like peasants and living in rural communes where they work the land with their own hands. The movement’s chief organizer, Tolstoy’s friend Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) is a dapper fellow who prefers nice suits and the city life for himself. He is dedicated to spreading Tolstoy’s ideas, but his foremost concern at the moment is to make sure that the old man leaves his valuable copyrights to the organization, thus effectively disinheriting his wife and children.
This earns him the enmity of Tolstoy’s wife Sofya (Helen Mirren), a smart and strong-willed woman who thinks that Tolstoy’s more radical ideas are a bunch of hooey. (Their marriage has been passionate but contentious.)
Chertkov recruits Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy), a naive and idealistic young Tolstoyan, to serve as Tolstoy’s private secretary and instructs him to spy on Sofya and help undermine her influence on Tolstoy.
Valentin’s experiences lead him to question his faith. Tolstoy turns out to be a friendly and charming old man (though sometimes cantankerous and confused) who freely admits that he is not a very good Tolstoyan. He seems much more nuanced than his humorless followers. Valentin finds himself feeling increasing sympathy for Sofya in spite of her obstructiveness. Worst of all he falls in love with a pretty, free-spirited young woman (Kerry Condon), an embarrassing problem for someone who believes in sexual abstinence.
The ultimate message seems to be that love is more important than ideals, or at least that it should be.