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TELEVISION REVIEW: Parade's End (BBC2, August 24th)

Posted by Michael Moran
Michael Moran
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on Saturday, 25 August 2012

I suspect that an awful lot of people who watched Parade's End last night will be half-way to work this morning before they realise it’s Saturday. There’s something about a lush, glossy period drama that just says ‘Sunday Night’.

And Parade’s End is the lushest, glossiest period drama imaginable. Seeing it wash up on our televisions on a Friday seemed wonderful, but unnatural. Like a kangaroo in the Arctic. Or an honest man in Parliament.

Benedict Cumberbatch stars in this Tom Stoppard adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s ponderous four-volume novel. Fresh from winning the nation’s hearts as an aloof cove with preternatural general knowledge in Sherlock, he’s an engaging lead as Christopher Tietjens, an…er… aloof cove with preternatural general knowledge.

 


Rebecca Hall plays Sylvia his faithless, wilful wife. From the moment she stagily declaimed “I’m pregnant you fool” in the first few minutes of the show I was starting to worry that we might be in some sort of trouble here.

Hall certainly looks the part, with cascading Pre-Raphaelite locks and a nose so geometrically perfect that the natural temptation on meeting her would be to run over and kiss it. The thing is, Sylvia’s a complex creature. In this TV adaptation we’re given little inkling of why she routinely cuckolds her husband. She just tells her friends that it’s rather fun and then goes off and does it. There are depths here to be stirred: somewhere in either the script or the direction Hall needs to be furnished with a much longer spoon.

The rest of the cast is packed with such a…I won’t say parade….cavalcade of starry names as to make a simple list of the famous faces seem preposterous. Rupert Everett, who is likeable in everything he does, flitted across our screens momentarily with his face seemingly frozen in a rictus of shock at the brevity of his appearance. I daresay he’ll pop up again.

There’s a longer look at Roger Allam. He so perfectly embodies the character of Peter Mannion MP in The Thick Of It that I fear he needs to take a break from the screen before we can see him as anyone else for a while. A break that not even the largest false moustache can attenuate.



Adelaide Clemens plays Valentine Wannop, Christopher’s true soulmate with whom he is too jolly decent to have an affair. This despite the fact that practically everyone else in the programme is loosening their stays at the drop of a bone-china teacup.

I think her blunt, peroxided bob is supposed to remind us that she’s an ardent Suffragette. I’m not altogether sure it’s period-accurate. The French actress Polaire certainly pioneered the look at around the time the book’s set but it wasn’t until the outbreak of World War One that Lady Diana Cooper made shorter hair respectable in polite society.

The effect of Clemens’s styling and general modernist demeanor kept making me think that popular 1990’s warbler Dido had arrived on set and that a musical number was imminent. Most of the other characters though are wheeled on and off with little ceremony.

 

 

Indeed Parade’s End altogether feels more like a series of beautifully-framed vignettes than a cohesive story. It’s one of the pitfalls of boiling down a great doorstop novel into five hours of television.

For all those faults though it’s a picturesque delight to the senses, with probably the most remarkable cast we’ll see in one television programme for a decade. I’ll certainly be watching the rest of the series. Recorded, and played back on Sunday. As Nature intended.

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