14 February 2014 | The_late_Buddy_Ryan
One of the best TV adaptations of a literary classic, ever!
I'm sure that HBO marketing execs were relieved that, if they were going to get behind a 5-part series based on Ford Madox Ford's complex and not terribly well known 20th-century masterpiece, at least some of it would be set in a stately home in the north of England, like that other show about the downtown abbey.
Ford's a great one for interior monologue and multiple points of view and such, but Tom Stoppard's masterly adaptation channels the great muddy river of his prose into a lively, involving narrative—though there's still enough time-shifting and flashbacking, even some Eisenstein-style montage, to do honor to Ford's avant-garde intentions. Considering what difficult material he's dealing with, it's one of the best TV adaptations ever!
Benedict Cumberbatch has always done well in period films, and he seems like the only possible choice for Christopher Tietjens, a self-styled 18th-century gentleman (the time period of the series is roughly 1908-19) and omniscient civil servant, but obstinate, brusque and arrogant as well (maybe even a little like Sherlock?). Rebecca Hall is riveting and surprisingly sympathetic as Tietjens's deceitful wife, Sylvia, and Aussie actress Adelaide Clemens is a revelation as Valentine, the virginal suffragette he meets and falls in love with in two of the series's most powerful scenes. (Tietjens and Sylvia, though usually at cross-purposes, are determined not to divorce—it's complicated
Tietjens is described by one of his wife's admirers as a "bloody great bolster" of a man—BC didn't have time to bulk up for the part, obviously—but he emerges as a poignant, even romantic, figure, with only the memory of the night he falls in love with Valentine to sustain him through six years of frustration, disappointment and danger. Perhaps it's easy to see why some viewers didn't find this storyline or this character very "relatable."
Long story short, '"Parade's End" isn't as accessible as an original costume drama devised for a contemporary audience, like "Downton," but it's decidedly worth watching. We didn't have a problem with BC's enunciation, but some of the dialogue, especially in the scenes with excited Welsh soldiers in the trenches, is admittedly not so easy to follow. (Next time we'll try the subtitles.) Great cinematography; kudos to the first-rate British cast, with special mention to Stephen Graham as Tietjens's fair-weather friend Macmasters and Rufus Sewell in a Pythonesque turn as a sex-crazed clergyman. An interview with Stoppard on disc two sheds some light on his process.