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The Last Station 15, 112 mins The Lovely Bones 12A, 135 mins REAL-life husband and wife, James McAvoy and Anne-Marie Duff are reunited on-screen in this love story set during the final year of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy's life.

Based on the novel by Jan Parini, The Last Station focuses on the terrible strain borne by his wife, the Countess.

Unable to live together without descending into bickering, yet unwilling to live apart because of their deep love, the elderly couple plays out these final months against a backdrop of political intrigue.

Starring Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren, who have both earned Oscar nominations as Best Actor and Best Actress respectively, as the elderly couple, the guide to this world is Valentin Bulgakov (McAvoy), the newly appointed private secretary to the great Tolstoy (Plummer), who arrives at the writer's estate to find himself in the middle of a very public war.

Tolstoy's disciple Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) intends to persuade the writer to sign over his works to the Russian people.

Countess Sofya (Mirren) disagrees, determined that the fortune belongs to her family.

As the tug of war becomes more heated, involving his favourite daughter Sasha (Duff) and personal physician Dushan Makovitsky (John Sessions), Valentin experiences the pangs of love with Tolstoy acolyte, Masha (Kerry Condon).

The Last Station hinges on the verbal sparring between Plummer's world weary artist, replete with impressive beard, and Mirren's embittered spouse, who creates more drama than her husband could ever commit to the page.

This is a great Sunday afternoon costume drama with a fleeting sex scene to set pulses racing.

Another novel adapted for the big screen is The Lovely Bones.

Lord of the Rings and King Kong director Peter Jackson creates a visually stunning interpretation of the bestseller by Alice Sebold.

A 14-year-old schoolgirl is murdered on her way home, but then helps her grieving father catch her killer from beyond the grave.

Susan Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) is lured to her death by neighbour George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), who dismembers the girl and hides her remains in a safe in his basement.

The teenager's father, Jack (Mark Wahlberg), mother Abigail (Rachel Weisz) and booze-soaked grandmother Lynn (Susan Sarandon) are denied a chance to bury the child.

Jack embarks on a campaign to track down his daughter's killer, while George watches from across the street.

Wahlberg seems unable to convey a genuine emotion as the grieving father, but Ronan delivers Sebold's words in heart-tugging voiceover. Just as mesmerising is Tucci, who brings a real chill.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 19, 2010
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