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Oddly enough, this handsome co-production (BBC and HBO) of "Parade's End" isn't even the first adaptation of this wartime saga that I've seen this month! BBC has also dusted another version from 1964 out of their archives for DVD release, and I watched that one prior to settling down to this most current version. Although it has no particular bearing on my comments about this interpretation, it might be of interest to you if you love the story. It features nice performances (Jeanne Moody is merciless as Sylvia) and boasts a young Judi Dench as the second female lead Valentine. I love Dench, so it was a win-win! Ford Madox Ford's "Parade's End" is an epic tale of love, scandal, marriage, and war. It is also about propriety, integrity, and retaining gentlemanly values as the world crumbles around you. It has a very moral center which is why the 1964 version didn't even feel particularly dated, and this lovely new adaptation is nicely stylized between the modern and the old-fashioned. The original publications were actually a series of four shorter novels released between 1924-28 that were pulled together and packaged under the new title of "Parade's End." And pretty much, with this journey, you're getting the bulk of the tale as related through the first three of these novels (the fourth is largely dismissed critically).

There is no denying the extraordinary efforts that the creators have employed to make this prestige piece a can't miss proposition for adult audiences. With beautiful production values, vivid lead performances and an incredibly literate script from premiere playwright Tom Stoppard, "Parade's End" presents a powerful, but not overstated, character journey set against the backdrop of World War I. We pick up with the characters prior to the war, and leave them on the other side. In between, though, everything changes about the lifestyles to which they have become accustomed. The star is Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Christopher Tietjens. Tietjens is an upright aristocrat trapped in a rather complicated marriage to Sylvia (Rebecca Hall). After establishing the unpleasantness of this pairing, the story has Tietjens meeting a free spirited suffragette (Adelaide Clemens). The remainder of the story follows these three principles, and assorted other characters, as they navigate a world ravaged by war.

Brief Synopsis (No major spoilers, but don't read if you don't want a quick outline of events):

Told in five parts, the story begins in 1908. In the introductory chapter, we meet the three central characters. As Tietjens attempts to be the proper gentleman in every circumstance, the cards seem stacked against him. Cuckolded by a vicious wife, intrigued by a new love, and trying to be a supportive friend, he finds himself in the middle of drama and scandal that is completely unwarranted. Playing off themes of class and gender, Tietjens is almost victimized by propriety and the results are very personal and devastating. These complications lead to a stint in military service while the war rages. He gets stationed in France and later in Belgium, the conflict is just one more component in his constant struggle for understanding. Plagued by moral and social constraints, the war only compounds these concerns. It is almost a physical manifestation of an internal battle. While he will see some fighting, the biggest challenges still come from within. But as the war comes to a close, Tietjens must return home and try to reconcile the horrors he's seen. But into whose arms will he find himself? The war and his recent experiences with Sylvia have really taken a toll, and his soul is battered and bruised. As he recounts the trauma, the confession serves as a catharsis. But is it too late to claim a new life?

End Synopsis

The supporting cast is filled with great and familiar faces. Not everyone, though, has a lot to do. Miranda Richardson, Claire Higgins, Rupert Everett, Janet McTeer, Roger Allam, Rufus Sewell, and Jack Huston are among some of the more recognizable faces. Rebecca Hall elicits some sympathy as Sylvia (not an easy thing to do) and is quite good. She has been rather inconsistent or unremarkable in some of her past roles (one of 2012's worst performances in Stephen Frears' terrible misfire "Lay The Favorite"), but she acquits herself well here. Of course, it helps that she gets all the great withering lines! The piece, however, is just one more showcase for the increasingly impressive Cumberbatch. His versatility and talent are becoming a force to be reckoned with! He is fantastic throughout in a challenging role. A slight miscalculation for me was Clemens as Valentine. Supposed to be a strong suffragette, she comes off a bit wan and less interesting than those around her. Overall, this is a dignified period piece that takes its time. It requires patience and rewards it. It may not be for every taste but I, for one, was more than happy to take this emotional sojourn. About 4 1/2 stars. KGHarris, 3/13.
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on June 7, 2013
I've just completed watching Parade's End for the second time and much to my surprise, it was just as enjoyable as the first time. Second time around watching usually loses something... but not in this case.

The stoic and admirable character of Christopher Tietjens is beautifully played by Benedict Cumberbatch and without question, one of his best roles. He shows such pain in the situations faced - whether it be the result of being honorable or often being caused by his manipulative wife, Sylvia, played by the stunning Rebecca Hall. You cannot help but loathe her character due to all of the crap she pulls on everyone. But in the same breath, you also feel some pity for her - the obvious desperation to be needed and loved by the one man she cannot - maybe even shouldn't - have. Then in walks Valentine Wannop - a kindred spirit to Tietjens and against what is "right", you're rooting for them to be together.

The characters were fantastic and the story is captivating - along with Mr. Cumberbatch's sultry baritone voice. Parade's End offered a view into a time where honor, duty, shame and freedom were completely different than that of today. And after you're done watching - there's this wistfulness of a simpler and more nobler day lingering.

If you enjoy historical fiction (Pride & Prejudice, The Other Boleyn Girl, Persuasion, etc.) - you will most definitely enjoy Parade's End.
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on March 14, 2013
This HBO miniseries is a masterpiece. It is beautifully written and acted, and unusually accurate historically. The film is emotionally devestating on the incompetence of the British military leadership in WWI, and on the hypocracy of social mores in the period before that war. From excellent novels by Ford Maddox Ford, but even better. Also, this is Benedict Cumberbatch's best film performance to date. Buy the video!
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on July 2, 2013
I loved this series - and it gets even better with repeat viewings. If anyone were to delete this from my DVR between now and the time the Region 1 Discs ship I WOULD kill them.

Rebecca Hall is a force, and the rest of the cast is fantastic. Yes it's a bit uneven at times but just go with it - it's worth the ride. This is not a comfy "sit back and be spoon fed" piece by any means. The characters are so layered and complex that you really feel you know them.

After watching Parade's End I saw Benedict in Star Trek - and he was no where NEAR as impressive/appealing without Ford/Stoppards beautiful words and clear motivations. True - he's an actor who can make just about anything he says sound good - but why should he have to? Parade's End is in a word - DELICIOUS!!

The physical changes in Cumberbatch's character over the 10 years of this are at times a bit jarring, but it is 10 years, and he is playing a fat, clumsy, ugly, blond Yorkshireman - if you can imagine. (He does get "prettier" as it goes on - if that's important to you).

After I watched this - I picked up the audio of all 4 of Ford's books (42 hours). The detail, stream of consciousness content, backstory, and follow up are whip cream with a cherry. I highly recommend it! Tom Stoppard did a masterful job of capturing the books in his script - as I could NEVER have figured out what was going on in the books had I not seen this first. Talk about jumping around...

Personally, Parade's End is my clear #2 (for Cumberbatch) - right behind 2004 BBC's Hawking - with the dazzling Sherlock at #3. It really is that good.

Also note - that the 6 negative reviews right now are all technical/operator problems that have nothing to do with the content. This should have more stars.
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on January 12, 2013
This is an adaptation of a series of British novels telling a story of life in the period of world war one. It has an excellent cast. Its very good visually in terms of photography and sets. But the script has problems.

They set themselves an impossible task in trying to adapt a complex series of books into a very few hours of television. There is just too much in terms of story and characters to cover in so little time. At best, it can be said to give an impressionistic view into the book or maybe just into the era. There are some interesting scenes, but the whole itself just didn't work. The early episodes are also rather odd because every negative or regretful comment about the war falls flat because we are rarely seeing anything to do with the war on the screen. The war is really absent through most of the series.

The script spends far too long getting to the high point which is in my opinion the story in the book "No More Parades". It then neglects to spend enough time or enough care on that part of the story. They do a massive, scattershot build-up over several episode full of detail that could easily be got rid of and then neglect that on which time and care should have been spent.

The other thing that didn't work for me is that the first few episodes were pure soap opera. Sometimes I wondered if Benedict Cumberbatch was just a supporting character in his own story. The story was somewhat turned inside out with the women characters being made the center of the drama rather than "Tietjens" up until really the last episode. It does turn around completely in that last episode. Cumberbatch puts in a very fine performance and established for me an attachment to the story/characters that I didn't have until then. The reunion scene at the house after the war was particuarly moving as were many of the war scenes with the commanding officer at the front and certain other things I will not spoil.

Steven Robertson as Colonel Bill Williams was exceptional in a small but very important part.

It was a long time getting there, but the last two episodes were more than worth it.
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on September 20, 2013
Don't find out anything about the plot before you watch.
And don't worry about catching every detail the first time through.
Just let the thrilling story and superb acting and powerful images carry you away.
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on October 10, 2013
this has become one of my favorite HBO series. I loved B. Cumberbatch in Amazing Grace. He has become one of my favorite English actors. In this series he is the perfect English gentleman but is torn between duty and wanting more out of life. With each situation he becomes more of a man you love and trust. I love the story, the acting and the time frame. The progression of the story line form beginning to end is wonderful to watch. The emotional battles within his being is amazing to watch, what outstanding acting. I have since purchased more movies that he is in.
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Oddly enough, this handsome co-production (BBC and HBO) of "Parade's End" isn't even the first adaptation of this wartime saga that I've seen this month! BBC has also dusted another version from 1964 out of their archives for DVD release, and I watched that one prior to settling down to this most current version. Although it has no particular bearing on my comments about this interpretation, it might be of interest to you if you love the story. It features nice performances (Jeanne Moody is merciless as Sylvia) and boasts a young Judi Dench as the second female lead Valentine. I love Dench, so it was a win-win! Ford Madox Ford's "Parade's End" is an epic tale of love, scandal, marriage, and war. It is also about propriety, integrity, and retaining gentlemanly values as the world crumbles around you. It has a very moral center which is why the 1964 version didn't even feel particularly dated, and this lovely new adaptation is nicely stylized between the modern and the old-fashioned. The original publications were actually a series of four shorter novels released between 1924-28 that were pulled together and packaged under the new title of "Parade's End." And pretty much, with this journey, you're getting the bulk of the tale as related through the first three of these novels (the fourth is largely dismissed critically).

There is no denying the extraordinary efforts that the creators have employed to make this prestige piece a can't miss proposition for adult audiences. With beautiful production values, vivid lead performances and an incredibly literate script from premiere playwright Tom Stoppard, "Parade's End" presents a powerful, but not overstated, character journey set against the backdrop of World War I. We pick up with the characters prior to the war, and leave them on the other side. In between, though, everything changes about the lifestyles to which they have become accustomed. The star is Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Christopher Tietjens. Tietjens is an upright aristocrat trapped in a rather complicated marriage to Sylvia (Rebecca Hall). After establishing the unpleasantness of this pairing, the story has Tietjens meeting a free spirited suffragette (Adelaide Clemens). The remainder of the story follows these three principles, and assorted other characters, as they navigate a world ravaged by war.

Brief Synopsis (No major spoilers, but don't read if you don't want a quick outline of events):

Told in five parts, the story begins in 1908. In the introductory chapter, we meet the three central characters. As Tietjens attempts to be the proper gentleman in every circumstance, the cards seem stacked against him. Cuckolded by a vicious wife, intrigued by a new love, and trying to be a supportive friend, he finds himself in the middle of drama and scandal that is completely unwarranted. Playing off themes of class and gender, Tietjens is almost victimized by propriety and the results are very personal and devastating. These complications lead to a stint in military service while the war rages. He gets stationed in France and later in Belgium, the conflict is just one more component in his constant struggle for understanding. Plagued by moral and social constraints, the war only compounds these concerns. It is almost a physical manifestation of an internal battle. While he will see some fighting, the biggest challenges still come from within. But as the war comes to a close, Tietjens must return home and try to reconcile the horrors he's seen. But into whose arms will he find himself? The war and his recent experiences with Sylvia have really taken a toll, and his soul is battered and bruised. As he recounts the trauma, the confession serves as a catharsis. But is it too late to claim a new life?

End Synopsis

The supporting cast is filled with great and familiar faces. Not everyone, though, has a lot to do. Miranda Richardson, Claire Higgins, Rupert Everett, Janet McTeer, Roger Allam, Rufus Sewell, and Jack Huston are among some of the more recognizable faces. Rebecca Hall elicits some sympathy as Sylvia (not an easy thing to do) and is quite good. She has been rather inconsistent or unremarkable in some of her past roles (one of 2012's worst performances in Stephen Frears' terrible misfire "Lay The Favorite"), but she acquits herself well here. Of course, it helps that she gets all the great withering lines! The piece, however, is just one more showcase for the increasingly impressive Cumberbatch. His versatility and talent are becoming a force to be reckoned with! He is fantastic throughout in a challenging role. A slight miscalculation for me was Clemens as Valentine. Supposed to be a strong suffragette, she comes off a bit wan and less interesting than those around her. Overall, this is a dignified period piece that takes its time. It requires patience and rewards it. It may not be for every taste but I, for one, was more than happy to take this emotional sojourn. About 4 1/2 stars. KGHarris, 3/13.
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on June 10, 2013
I have not read the original set of four novels by Ford Madox Ford upon which this series was based - I understand that much of one of those novels was excised from the screenplay here. Ordinarily, I am disappointed by novel-screen transfers, so perhaps not having read the original material has enhanced my admiration of this series, which is literate, beautifully produced, and superbly acted.

The painful story of Christopher Tietjens, a product of Britain's late 19th century-early 20th century class system, focuses on Tietjens's moral and emotional struggles as World War I engulfs Europe. Tietjens is a deeply conservative man employed as a mathematician by the government, producing statistical analyses for it. We learn early that he has been entrapped into marriage with a beautiful but calculating socialite named Sylvia, due to an out of wedlock pregnancy that we (and he) are never certain is his doing. Tietjens's struggles to achieve balance between his natural reserve and values (the 18th century against the 19th, the country against the city, as he defiantly puts it), amid events that overtake his personal life and his life as a citizen of a country at war, are demonstrated with great delicacy by Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch offers a beautifully paced, nuanced portrait of an emotionally constricted man pushed nearly beyond endurance by the imperatives imposed on him by a world war and an unhappy marriage. Ford Madox Ford intended this to be an anti-war novel, but even not having read the tetralogy, it seemed as if the writers chose to emphasize the love triangle that develops among Tietjens, the wife who marries him for social convenience, and the young suffragette with whom he falls in love, and to refract the horrors of the war through these relationships, rather than the other way around. Complicating matters for Tietjens is his love for the son Sylvia bears after their marriage, and whose real paternity he quickly ceases to care about, bonding with the child and doing his best to be a responsible and loving father.

There are a great many strands to this story, which covers a period beginning before and ending shortly after World War I. Cumberbatch's performance is subtle and moving. He conveys Tietjens' deeply rooted ideas about honor, almost a confused sense of having been born in the wrong place at the wrong time, and his titanic efforts to free himself sufficiently to respond to love and warmth. Given the nearly Asperger-like reserve that shackles so much of Tietjens's persona, those struggles are wrenching to witness. Rebecca Hall turns in a marvelous performance as the spiteful, emotionally warped Sylvia. The DVD is worth purchasing just for these two performances, although the rest of the cast is hardly far behind.

I plan to read Ford's tetralogy as soon as I can, but, as it is, this series and its portrayals continue to linger in memory. Note: this is a Region 2 DVD, so you will need to have, as I do, a region-free DVD player to watch it.
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on March 26, 2014
For those impatient with the facile chumminess of Downton Abbey's aristocrats, and its Dallas-on-the-moors veneers, this made-for-TV series is a must-see.

This is a far truer, more realistic portrayal of Edwardian England based on a novel by FM Ford, a fine writer--though a less-than-considerate "bounder" by his own and others' accounts (see my review of Quartet - The Merchant Ivory Collection, with Alan Bates, Maggie Smith and Isabelle Adjani). It is far more clear-eyed about the times, that scene and those people, and so much less "about the gowns."

So expect a tale full of insufferable snobberry, nasty prejudices and very crippling repressions. I gather in the book the male lead is quite detestable, unlike as Benedict Cumberbatch delivers him, 'though the virtue of this production is that, among others, I'll be reading it! The female lead may be a bit too liberated for a full century ago, but that's no great sin; it's almost plausible, since she's paired with a hyper-principled but little-boyish man.

Cumberbatch does well, stiff and lugubrious but far more human than in the "Sherlock" series (and equipped with a superb voice, up there with Burton and Jeremy Irons). Perhaps in her best role yet, Rebecca Hall, as ever, is swan-like beautiful yet sometimes also verges on duck-ugly, making her totally enchanting to watch. Both prove themselves top-drawer leads in plum roles, and well-launched toward big cinematic things. And there's no lack of good support from the rest of the solid cast.

The art direction--including some grim Edwardian dresses, rooms and castles that alternate with their opposite counterparts in gorgeousness--is second to none.

Highest recommendation.
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