Parade’s End

I watched this BBC/HBO miniseries earlier in the year, but haven’t had time to write about it until now. Parade’s End was written by Tom Stoppard and adapted from the novel by Ford Maddox Ford. This five part period drama is a visual feast, and boasts stunning performances and excellent writing.

Parade’s End is set in Europe before, during, and just after World War I. The central character is Christopher Tietjens (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), an English civil servant and aristocrat. Tietjens’s wife Sylvia (Rebecca Hall) is repeatedly unfaithful to him, and there is even uncertainty about the paternity of their son. When Christopher meets a young suffragette named Valentine Wannop (Adelaide Clemens) he can’t help but fall in love. Though his marriage is far from happy, Tietjens – out of a deep sense of duty – will not leave his wife. The series follows Tietjens to the war in France, where he fights on the frontline and struggles to decide which direction his life will take – and with which woman – if he makes it out alive.

Every performance in Parade’s End is of top quality, but the three stars of the series are really incredible. Cumberbatch – perhaps most well known for his recent portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the series Sherlock – is perfect as the principled and conservative Christopher Tietjens. Cumberbatch is able to convey Tietjens’s emotional turmoil while at the same time presenting a stoic and sometimes ‘wooden’ exterior. His performance is subtle and yet very moving. Cumberbatch has such a distinctive voice and face that at first I thought it would impossible to disassociate him from Sherlock (a role I also loved him in). However, by the end of the first episode I almost couldn’t believe that this was the same actor – Cumberbatch recreated himself as Tietjens so completely. Rebecca Hall is also mesmerising and infuriating as the beautiful and selfish Sylvia Tietjens. Much of what I loved about Parade’s End is the way it looks, and Sylvia is certainly a big part of that. Her numerous dresses are gorgeous, and it’s no wonder Parade’s End won a BAFTA for best costume design. Aesthetics aside, Hall is a very strong actress with a commanding presence, and her portrayal of Sylvia is captivating. And finally, Adelaide Clemens. There is something arresting about Clemens (an Australian actress raised in Brisbane, but with a father who is a British National) as Valentine Wannop: I find it difficult to describe exactly what it is. Clemens is young and pretty, but not particularly striking. And yet her performance as the headstrong and head-over-heels-in-love Wannop is extremely powerful. Perhaps it is her apparent innocence and simplicity combined with hints of something much deeper and more complicated.

Parts of Parade’s End are very ‘talky’, and felt as if they were made more for the theatre than for the screen. I watched the series with my Mum, and she was slightly unimpressed with the ending – I think she was hoping for more of a twist. For me, the ending seemed inevitable, and I suppose as a result somewhat predictable. But I still found it ultimately satisfying. Overall, Parade’s End is beautifully filmed and acted, and well worth watching.

Parade’s End first aired on BBC Two in August 2012 and on HBO in February 2013. It was directed by Susanna White, of Generation Kill fame. Find more information about Parade’s End at hbo.com.

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