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John Hurt leads cast of 10-hour War and Peace BBC radio drama

John Hurt to star in Radio 4's War and Peace.
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Simon Russell Beale, John Hurt and Lesley Manville have been cast in an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace for BBC Radio 4, which will be played out over 10 hours on New Year’s Day.

Playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker has adapted for the book for Radio 4, and it is understood the play marks the first time a drama has been broadcast over 10 hours in one day on the network.

The broadcast will begin at 9am and conclude at 9.30pm, broken up by news bulletins, two episodes of that day’s Archers and some comedy in the evening.

There will be 10-parts in total, which will be available on the iPlayer after the initial broadcast, as well as being repeated in the Classic Serial slot over 10 hour episodes later on Radio 4.

Wertenbaker said she had been “obsessed with War and Peace ever since I can remember” and added: “When you love something, you want to possess it in some way and the best way to possess a novel is to adapt it. I always felt radio could do something with this great novel that film and television might not.”

Jeremy Howe, drama commissioner at Radio 4, said Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good was “one of the great plays of the latter bit of the 20th century”.

“With War and Peace, she brings an intellectual rigour to what is arguably the greatest books ever written,” he added.

Howe described the book as a “page turner” and the “biggest blockbuster of them all”, adding: “So we thought why not do it in the biggest blockbuster way we can find, so that is why we have stripped out the schedule on a day when we think people will be prepared to sit down and listen to something.”

War and Peace was announced today as part of Radio 4’s Christmas schedule, which also includes a production of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, performed by the cast of The Archers as the drama series’ Christmas show. The standalone performance of this play features Julian Rhind-Tutt.

Rhind-Tutt will also star with Celia Imrie in Eating for England, on December 29, which is about chef Nigel Slater’s “formative years and the bleak Christmas he spent following his mother’s death”.

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