War and Peace explodes into all-out combat – but will Prince Andrei survive?

A moving penultimate episode of BBC1’s impressive period drama War and Peace finds lives and fates hanging in the balance

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**SPOILERS: do not read if you have not seen War and Peace episode 5**

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Well, if we were in any doubt as to why it was called War and Peace, we certainly found out tonight.

BBC1’s superlative dramatisation of Tolstoy’s masterpiece erupted into action as the Russians fought Napoleon’s forces at the Battle of Borodino and the story’s characters were thrown headlong into the action.

And what action it was. Noisy, bloody, brutal battle scenes flooded the screens, conveying the smoke-filled confusion with precision and power. All those smart uniforms, braid and pageantry, and then… a slaughterhouse.

Still, at least the Russians had General Kutuzov on their side. Brian Cox’s bear-like commander – gruff, sensible and with at least some regard for the lives of his men – seems to know what he is doing.

Which is more than can be said for Paul Dano’s Pierre. He had made his way to the front line in a bid to find a purpose in life and his intentions seemed to literally blow up in his face. His one practical action – to fetch some artillery – ended with an explosion and the evisceration of the soldier who had accompanied him.

James Norton’s Andrei, clearly depressed by Natasha’s betrayal, was a man with a death wish for the second time in this story. His decision not to duck when a bomb landed near his company saw him end up in a ghastly field hospital in a very bad way.

But he was not in as terrible a condition as the man next to him who was forced to endure a particularly explicit and grisly amputation of the leg (which I am guessing may attract a few complaints from viewers). It then became clear that this poor man was the dastardly Anatole, the cad who had stolen Natasha from Andrei…

But in a beautiful moment, the summit of tonight’s episode, Anatole reached out to the man he had wronged and Andrei was up to the task, clasping palms with his enemy in an act of comradely kindness.

It was hugely moving, especially with the fate of both men clearly hanging in the balance.

Still, there was some consolation. Anatole’s manipulative sister, Pierre’s estranged wife Helene, looks like she will be getting her comeuppance.

The flighty so-and-so has found a man she now wants to marry. But, by the looks of things, her new amour doesn’t much care for her. Could the jug be up for both of the scheming Kuragin siblings?

The wheels of justice seem to be turning just in time for next week’s final episode. Will Anatole and Andrei survive? Will Pierre admit his love for Lily James’ Natasha? Will Andrei forgive his former fiancé?

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The millions of viewers who have been transfixed by this great piece of television cannot wait to find out.