Top positive review
96 people found this helpful
A Handsome Five Part Miniseries: A Great Benedict Cumberbatch Plays In A Romantic Triangle Set Against A World War I Backdrop
on March 22, 2013
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?
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.