So, I know I’m a little late to the party (since it aired in February), but I had to write a post about the BBC/HBO miniseries Parade’s End, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall, and Adelaide Clemens. The five-part series is adapted from four books written by Ford Madox Ford between 1924 and 1928. Ford served in the Welsh Regiment during World War I, and used his experience on the Front to bring the conflict to life in his books, which were eventually combined into one volume, entitled Parade’s End.
Tom Stoppard wrote the screenplay for this particular adaptation, and it received a lot of critical acclaim. So I had high hopes when it finally arrived in my mailbox. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Parade’s End tells the story of Christopher Tietjens (Cumberbatch), an intelligent British aristocrat who clings to the old code of moral conduct, even though the world around him is changing at a rapid pace. The story opens in 1908, on his wedding day to flirtatious socialite Sylvia (Hall), who is two-months pregnant. He’s not sure if the child is his, but determined to do the honorable thing, he marries her. The two are complete opposites, both in temperament and the way they view the world. Sylvia’s destructive actions are motivated by her need to get a reaction out of her stoic husband. In one scene a frustrated Sylvia lobs a breakfast plate at Christopher’s head as he pencils in corrections to the Encyclopedia Britannica, and he barely flinches. While Sylvia enters into affairs to try to get her husband to notice her, Christopher’s principles prevent him from consummating his love for the earnest, passionate young suffragette Valentine Wannop (Clemens).
When World War I erupts across Europe, Christopher resigns from his job as a government statistician after he is asked to manipulate the facts. Honorable principles in tact, he joins the army to fight for the preservation of the old ways he holds dear. But the chaos of war will cause him to question those beliefs.
Christopher Tietjens’s transformation, along with his tumultuous relationship with his wife and longing for the woman he will not allow himself to have made this series enthralling to watch. There are some subplots that drag a bit (but are nonetheless necessary), and at times this story does move slowly. But the performances by Cumberbatch and Hall more than make up for it. And the plot had me wondering to the very end who Christopher would choose to spend his life with.
I also appreciated the series’ treatment of World War I, as it showed not only what was happening on the front lines, but also the inefficiency of the military as Christopher is placed in a post to outfit troops preparing for the trenches.
And despite the gravity of the content, there are actually some surprisingly laugh-out-loud moments scattered throughout the series. But I will say, though it takes place during the same time period, Downton Abbey this is not. TIME’s James Poniewozik summed it up well when he wrote: “If Downton is a nostalgic champagne toast to the bygone Edwardian aristocracy, HBO’s five-hour miniseries is more of a cold, bitter drink of scotch at its wake.”
With great performances, wonderful cast chemistry, and beautiful cinematography, Parade’s End is a fantastic period piece I highly recommend.
Here’s the trailer (I honestly think I could listen to Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice all day…not that it influenced my review or anything):