TELEVISION REVIEW: Parade’s End (2012) November 22, 2012Posted by Dragan Antulov in Television Reviews.
Tags: Adelaide Clemens, BBC, Benedict Cumberbatch, Parades End, Rebecca Hall, Tom Stoppard
A Television Review
Copyright Dragan Antulov 2012
British television is usually considered superior to American and most other world’s televisions. This could be explained by greater flexibility in television formats. Some of the best examples could be found in the realms of television drama. Regular television series in UK is usually made out of much shorter seasons than in USA, without need to create sub-par episodes to fill 20+ quotas. British mini-series, on the other hand, could be longer than usual 3 hours and thus allow more complex and elaborate plots and character developments. This feature is quite promising for literary adaptations and this might explain why great novels of British literature tend to be adapted in good or even great British television. Such great expectations, however, weren’t met in Parade’s End, five-part mini-series based on the eponymous series of novels written by Ford Maddox Ford.
The plot takes places in 1910s Britain, setting made quite popular due to success of Downtown Abbey. The protagonist, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is Christopher Tietjens, son a wealthy Yorkshire aristocrat who works for the government as a statistician. Despite his wealth and seemingly successful political career, Tietjens is deeply unhappy man. This is partly due to his conservative beliefs that are at odds with all-encroaching modernity and partly because of the disastrous marriage with constantly unfaithful wife Sylvia (played by Rebecca Hall). Tietjens himself becomes infatuated with Valentine Wannop (played by Adelaide Clemens), outspoken suffragette that seemingly embodies everything he is against; their mutual attraction will not end in affair because due to Tietjens’ moral convictions and due to outside events. One of such events is the global European war he had predicted based on his statistics and in which he would, like many of his generation, take active part.
Parade’s End on paper contains all the proper ingredients for successful literary adaptations. It is produced by BBC, written by renowned dramatist Tom Stoppard, and the cast features reliable set of top British actors. Among them the best is Cumberbatch, who looks ideal for the role of seemingly cold and cynical embodiment of “stiff-upper-lip” British aristocrat. His portrayal, in which he shows the warmer side of the very troubled and complex characters, would, unfortunately, be overshadowed by unavoidable comparisons with somewhat similar role in Sherlock. Casting was also well-done by pitting two very different actresses for the roles of women who fight over protagonist. Rebecca Hall is very effective as manipulative “vampish” seductress, while relatively unknown Australian actress Adelaide Clemens provides good contrast as short-haired “good girl”.
The rest of cast is, on the other hand, despite great talent, fails to make an impact mostly due to failure of Stoppard and director Susanna White to compress the content of four novels into five hours of television. There are some good scenes, especially those featuring Stephen Graham (best known as Al Capone in Boardwalk Empire) in the role of Tietjens’ socially climbing friend; almost unrecognisable Rufus Sewell is quite memorable as insane vicar. All those scenes provide humour, but not as much as the fourth episode of the series, set behind the WW1 front and in which bureaucratic and logistical problems conspire with family crisis to create nightmare almost as bad as the horrors of trench warfare. Those brilliant flashes, however, only point to the series not function as a whole. Some important historic events in the background (beginnings of women’s franchise, Irish question, rise of social activism and socialism, the slow collapse of former anti-Catholic prejudice) are given token treatment. The series quite abruptly with the end of war, leaving the audience to wonder what would happen to the protagonist in strange and new world. Failure to answer this question makes audience rather unsatisfied and quite disappointed.