The English have somewhat of a knack for turn-of-the-20th-century period drama. Upstairs Downstairs, Downton Abbey & now Parade’s End all share tales of life in Britain at a time of great upheaval and that effect on the very classed social environment. In bringing to life Ford Madox Ford’s novels Parade’s End delivers us a hero with the stiffest of upper lips and a wife with the most open of morals, shot gloriously against a British backdrop but with a plot that moves with glacier-like speed.
Christopher Tietjens (Benedict Cumberbatch) is, like all men, captivated by Sylvia (Rebecca Hall) and offers her life as an aristocrat’s wife. She manipulates, teases and cheats on him – to the point of giving birth to a son even he is sure isn’t his – yet he maintains he cannot divorce her because it isn’t “what a gentleman does”. Sylvia despises him and seeks at every turn to bring him down or belittle him. He’s her plaything and she intends to make him pay for any guilt her conscience may mask.
A love triangle of sorts develops after Tietjens meets young suffragette Valentine Wannop (Adelaide Clemens) and Tietjens is torn between a deep need to do what is right and his desire for love. The relationship(s) are stretch across World War 1 as Tietjens enlists and goes to the front, but ultimately he must choose between his wife and the woman he wishes shared his bed.
The passion of the novels is clear and the cast are admirable in their portrayal of their characters (Janet McTeer is a delight as Sylvia’s mother, Mrs Satterthwaite, complete with her disdain for her spoilt daughter’s pouts and tantrums). The challenge is sticking with all 5 episodes of the joint BBC/HBO/VRT series – initially it jumps about worse than Back To The Future II, but then it settles so much each individual plot point is laid out in such a fashion it would have been quicker for the script writer to hand-write the scenes and deliver them to viewers personally. Sylvia’s torment of Christopher is meant to make you not like her and it’s eminently successful – by the end of episode three you wish you could jump through the screen and see to it she never bother him again.
Speed at which the story progresses aside there’s a lot to enjoy. You just have to overcome how long it takes to see/learn any of it. It’s gonna be a tough sell to get through all five episodes if you’re not committed after episode two. But if you can hang in… it’s worth the pain.
Parade’s End – coming soon, Ch9.