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Parade's End is Tom Stoppard's new adaption of Ford Madox Ford's First
World War novel. One knew it was going to be good as soon as one
noticed that the novelist's first and last name were the same a sure
sign of a serious and thoughtful writer.
The series stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Christopher Tietjens a tightly wound, deeply honourable English gentlemen with an annoying penchant for not having sex with beautiful women who want to have sex with him. They pursue him, they flirt with him, they sometimes get down on their knees and beg him, but old Christopher doesn't want to know. He is far too busy being tightly wound and deeply honourable.
Directly by Susannah White, Parade's End is BBC costume drama at its most costumy, with plenty of expensive tweed, pinched in waistlines, and heaving powdered cleavage.
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Cumberbatch must have watched many thousands of hours of Edward Fox movies, as he seems to have perfectly mastered Fox's uniquely contorted lower facial expression that of pressing one's lips together and using one's cheek muscles to somehow force one's down-turned mouth painfully southwards towards the chin.
Rebecca Hall, (daughter of Sir Peter) plays Tietjens' beautiful but sex-starved socialite wife, who on one occasion strips naked in front of her husband, only to be told that he can't bear to turn away from the wall and look at her. On another occasion the poor woman is so desperate for intercourse that she jumps into a taxi in London, drives hundreds of miles to where he is fighting in France, and practically throws herself on top of him in the trenches. Meanwhile, Christopher's sagging mouth slides further and further down his face as he daydreams about his beautiful suffragette admirer Valentine (Adelaide Clemens), and what it might be like to not have sex with her again when he returns home to Blighty.
Clearly Parade's End is intelligent, beautifully crafted drama, without the TV soap-like qualities of the more mainstream Downton Abbey, and Benedict Cumberbatch is destined to become one of our finest serious actors. That is, of course, if he manages to avoid being cast as Doctor Who.
The script from Sir Tom Stoppard is as witty and genius-level as one
would expect. Sussana White featured innovative style of direction with
the frequent use of mirrors. Photography is just utterly breathtaking.
Rebecca Hall has the easy task of being a standout with a flashy and emotional character in Sylvia Tietjens. She has moments of utter brilliance and instances of pure over-the-top acting that is too overt and theatrical for the era. Nonetheless, with Stoppard giving her the juiciest lines and the costume department lavishing her with exquisite period clothing, it was rendered beautifully as a whole.
From Benedict Cumberbatch's pyrotechnic performance in Sherlock, here he is as understated and tight-lipped as you would imagine an English aristocrat is. Despite portraying a character described as wooden in the novel, his performance conveys beautifully the internal vulnerability and confusion of Christopher Tietjens- a task that should be highly regarded. Cumberbatch wholly inhabited the character with the use of body language and vocal quality we haven't seen before in any of his previous works. A performance that continues to prove that he is one of finest actors of his generation.
One of the main characters, Valentine was slightly underdeveloped in this adaptation. Thus, the love-triangle aspect of the story was not as compelling as it is in the novel. Despite that, this is a topnotch period drama with high literary pedigree and a first class production the BBC and HBO are known for.
The first thing about this series is that the photography and
production design is sumptuous and stunning. Even if the story and
characters were of no interest, the visual appeal of this is memorable.
The only strange thing in this aspect of the production is that the music in scenes for the parties is jazz - 1920s sounding jazz. It is very odd and historically inaccurate for the social status of the story as jazz entered England in 1919, apparently.
As to the core of it, well, it is an abbreviated working of a complex set of novels written in a certain way and Stoppard has done well with the time limits etc of the medium. It works but one is always aware of what is being abridged to make it fit.
Cumberbatch is the most intense, internal English leading man in a long while and seems to have borrowed Jeremy Irons's mandible crunching pensiveness. But he is absolutely right here.
Hall as Sylvia Tietjens is ravishing and confused in right order. Her performance is entitled' and arrogant, though it might be a bit too modern in its overtness.
Not since A Dance to the Music of Time has such a stellar cast been
allied to such an artful and unusual script.
Ford Madox Ford is not a popular novelist. His work often approaches its subjects on an elliptical curve, his principal characters are seldom in the mainstream of society, forming odd relationships, requiring his audience to assimilate their understanding of them over the course of a whole work rather than categorise from their experience (or jump to conclusions based on genre). This explains why we don't see his work adapted very often. Or even at all.
Susanna White and Tom Stoppard have both grasped the nettle of demonstrating this sideways approach, though I'm not sure quite so many kaleidoscopic shots were necessary to drive the point home. Benedict Cumberbatch joins in, underlining his character's isolation with some rather off-putting facial gestures. Ronald Hines played Tietjens in the now lost 1960's adaptation and casting to type may have worked better than struggling with toning down the matinée idol status Cumberbatch has acquired since hitting Sherlock Holmes out of the park. Maybe if he and Stephen Graham had swapped roles the other characters might have found it easier to deal with Tietjens' self-enforced oddity but that may have impaired Ford's central point, beautifully delivered as the the climax to Episode 4.
But acting idiosyncrasies cannot mask the quality of the fabulous script or the overall adaptation which has a towering performance from Rebecca Hall and glittering additions from Rufus Sewell, Rupert Everett, Miranda Richardson, Roger Allam, Ann-Marie Duff and beautiful, note-perfect newcomer Adele Clemens.
With so much glossy soap about, it is extremely refreshing to have high quality, thought-provoking, challenging drama this good whatever the lead chooses to do with his jaw muscles.
I don't like watching series or movies based on the wars but I watched
this because of Benedict Cumberbatch and I have fallen in love with
this series. I have not read the novels or have any idea about the
writer but if the books are even half as good as the TV adaptation,
they must be a must- read. Christopher Teijens is a brilliant, very
committed and decent gentleman. He has a wife who cheats on him and he
is love with a girl. At the backdrop is the world war 1. If you are
looking for a story, there is not much of it but the true star of the
show is the direction, cinematography, amazingly poetic dialogues and
unblemished acting by the whole cast. The music compliments the
settings and the backdrop very well. Benedict Cumberbatch has shown the
world how talented he is. Flawless acting, deep emotions and superb
voice modulations. Rebecca Hall and Adelaide Clemens have made the
characters of Sylvia and valentine unforgettable.
Don't watch this if you are a fan of fast paced action. This is for patient, connoisseurs of literature and romantics. Watch it for intelligent viewership.
Before "Parade's End," Rebecca Hall and Benedict Cumberbatch were last
paired professionally in an unassuming romantic comedy called "Starter
for 10," a film anchored by their friend James McAvoy. All three played
university students. Although each turned in a good performance, the
roles were not ones that required much acting range. In Parade's End,
however, the roles of Sylvia and Christopher Tietjens allow both Hall
and Cumberbatch to flex their considerable acting muscles. When both
are in a scene, the scene is so riveting that it is hard to know which
actor to watch.
Over the years, the 36-year-old Cumberbatch has built an impressive portfolio of work. He has been accurately described as a chameleon. He so completely invests himself in a role that it is sometimes hard to recognize the actor behind the character.
As Sylvia Tietjens, wife of wealthy landowner Christopher Tietjens, Hall holds her own against Cumberbatch. Her Sylvia is smart, narcissistic, beautiful, lusty, manipulative, and utterly fascinating. Her rival, suffragette Valentine Wannop, pales in comparison. While the younger Valentine is sweet, loyal, and plucky, she doesn't have Sylvia's fire.
Which woman will Christopher choose? You'll have to watch the series to find out. Along the way, you'll enjoy not only the performances of the three principal actors, but also the performances of a wonderful ensemble of able actors, including Rupert Everett, Anne-Marie Duff (coincidentally, the wife of James McAvoy, who joined Hall and Cumberbatch in "Starter for 10"), and others.
"Parade's End" is a five-part miniseries from England starring Benedict
Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall, Rupert Everett, Miranda Richardson, and
Janet McTeer. Based on the novel by Ford Maddox Ford, the script was
written by Tom Stoppard.
The story is about the British upper class pre- and during World War I, focusing on Christopher Tietjens (Cumberbatch) and his wife Sylvia (Rebecca Hall). Christopher is an honorable man and extremely repressed, it seems - he won't sleep with the woman he loves (Adelaide Clemens) because he's married, but then he's not sleeping with his wife, who has been unfaithful to him and may or may not have given birth to their son.
Tietjens eventually joins the war office rather than staying in safety because he considers it more honest than what he's being asked to do at his job as a government statistician.
I didn't read the book -- according to the reviews, the role of Sylvia is not supposed to be sympathetic, and Rebecca Hall has been criticized for this. I would submit it's not her fault, it's the director's - I'm sure she could have acted the role any way she was requested to do it.
The director cast young Adelaide Clemens as Tietjens' would-be mistress, though their relationship isn't consummated before or during the war. I have to agree with reviews, for a suffragette, she's pretty vapid.
Benedict Cumberbatch is one of the greatest actors today, and again, as reviews have pointed out, he has now achieved matinée idol status. Originally HBO did not want him in this series because they didn't know who he was; by the time the series was ready to be filmed, they said it had to be with Benedict or they wouldn't do it! Christopher isn't supposed to be a matinée idol - he's described as bulky and unattractive. Cumberbatch gained weight for the role to make himself look a little bigger, though by no means bulky, and he wore inserts in his face to kill those incredibly high cheekbones. He also does something with the jaw area - he had jowls and an unusual way of using his mouth, which has been compared to Edward Fox's and Jeremy Irons' jaw movements. It's part of his characterization, so he actually doesn't look like the dashing Sherlock, between that, his weight, and his lighter hair. He's also lowered his voice, which was pretty low to begin with.
All in all, it's a brilliant performance. He really is a true chameleon. Christopher, however, to Americans anyway, is difficult to understand with his uptightness and his honor, just like one lost patience with Ashley Wilkes and his mixed messages to Scarlett.
And since Cumberbatch is now a matinée idol and if you're a woman, what you're waiting for is some sex and boy, there wasn't much of that, though we did get to see his bare chest when his shirt was open. Wow. We who have seen him do love scenes, such as in The Last Enemy, were left pretty much like Sylvia -- frustrated.
There are some beautiful scenes and some very gritty war scenes, plus lots of symbolism to be had. This series has been compared to Downton Abbey but it is in no way a soap opera. It's much more subtle; it moves slowly, as that way of life did, with everything looking good on the surface but bubbling with scandal and problems underneath.
A great effort that succeeds in part, with some wonderful acting.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is an impressive adaptation. It is obscure in many ways, but that
is, I think, the point. An old-fashioned, decent Englishman,
Christopher, has a fling with an aristocrat on a train, Sylvia, and
this sets both of them on a downward spiral. Why did they do it? Why do
people get mixed up with the absolute wrong person? I think their
attraction is that they are both completely outdated types: She is the
worst of a selfish, dissolute aristocracy, who gets its way through
clubby connections and manipulation. He is the best of the old ways:
honorable and self-denying. She sees his value as nobody else does and
she uses her nasty, underhanded tactics to defend him as much as to
corrupt him. He on the contrary uses his code to admire her as much as
repress her. It is the last gasp of Old England. Complicating the story
is Valentine, the suffragette. She is truthful, unselfish and decent to
others, like Crissy (as they call him), but she hates the old ways and
offer him a choice. Is there a place for such values in the dawning
20th century? The stories about corrupt government ministers, crazy
churchmen, nasty adulterers, cruel gossips and the horror of WWI
unfolds against this basic conflict between the dying gentlemanly code
and the unfolding new century. Benedict Cumberbatch is outstanding as
Christopher: he always balances the exterior coldness and interior
passion, and we can like him without sharing his dated beliefs. Rebecca
Hall also does a lot with Sylvia, who could have been a cheating nasty
B but shows us how much she hopes for love and is unable to find it in
the narrow upper-class world.
This series demands that the viewer do the work. It never plays down to the audience, and I'm glad of it. It's worth pondering why people make the choices they do, especially under the pressure of a World War. Really top-notch.
I'm sure that HBO marketing execs were relieved that, if they were
going to have to get behind a 5-part series based on Ford Madox Ford's
complex and not terribly well known 20th-century masterpiece, at least
some of it would be set in a stately home in the north of England, like
that other show about the downtown abbey.
Ford's a great one for interior monologue and multiple points of view and such, but Tom Stoppard's masterly adaptation channels the great muddy river of his prose into a lively, involving screenplay, though there's still enough time-shifting and flashbacking, even some Eisenstein-style montage, to do honor to Ford's avant-garde intentions. Considering what difficult material he's dealing with, it's one of the best TV adaptations ever! Benedict Cumberbatch has always done well in period films, and he seems like the only possible choice to play Christopher Tietjens, a self-styled 18th-century gentleman (the time period of the series is roughly 1908-19) and omniscient civil servant, but obstinate, brusque and arrogant as well (maybe even a little like Sherlock?); Rebecca Hall is riveting and surprisingly sympathetic as Tietjens's deceitful wife, Sylvia, and Aussie actress Adelaide Clemens is a revelation as Valentine, the virginal suffragette he falls in love with every time they meet. (Tietjens and Sylvia, though usually at cross-purposes, are determined not to divorceit's complicated .) Tietjens is described by one of his wife's admirers as a "bloody great bolster" of a man--BC didn't have time to bulk up for the part, obviously--but he emerges as a poignant, even romantic, figure, with only the memory of the night he first falls in love with Valentine to sustain him through six years of frustration, disappointment and danger. Perhaps it's easy to see why some viewers didn't find this storyline or this character very "relatable."
Long story short, '"Parade's End" isn't as accessible as an original costume drama devised for a contemporary audience, like "Downton," but it's decidedly worth watching. We didn't have a problem with BC's enunciation, but some of the dialogue, especially in the scenes with excited Welsh soldiers in the trenches, is admittedly not so easy to follow. Next time we'll try the subtitles. Great cinematography; kudos to the first-rate British cast, with special mention to Stephen Graham as Tietjens's fair-weather friend Macmasters and Rufus Sewell in a Pythonesque turn as a sex-crazed clergyman. Interview with Stoppard on disc two sheds some light on his process.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An outstanding series for the director and all actors. Having read the
four books by Ford Maddox Ford, I was disappointed so much good
material was not included in the script. Considerable history of
Christopher's family, for which he was so fiercely devoted, was not
included. Christopher's personality would be more understandable to an
audience if they knew more about him. Young Valentine was not developed
as a character nearly as fully as I would have hoped. I wanted more, I
tell you, far more....this wonderful novel deserved 10 episodes to do
The acting, photography, costumes and sets are superb. Rebecca Hall was perfect. Americans like myself will struggle with the sound and the actor's words now and then. However, that provides an excuse to watch the series repeatedly until satisfied. Thank you for this wonderful production.
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