When episode one was aired some media critics noted that with viewers of 3.1m Parade’s End achieved viewing figures to match the lauding it received in its reviews (from same the critics). A superb cast was mentioned. True. But they didn’t take into account the Cumberbatch Factor. This man is Sherlock for God’s sake. Lovers of Cumberbatch’s Sherlock were on the receiving end of quite something else here. No surprises then that nearly one million did not stick with it for episode two.
Some have remarked on my patience in the past. I stuck with it for episode two. I loved the German scenery – it’s not often we experience this on the TV. I even thought it might be picking up a bit. And then came episode three. Up to the half way point I really thought I’d be doing a ‘Dragons’ Den’ and saying ‘I’m out’, but then it picked up for certain. Why? Because I suddenly felt something for Christopher Tietjens. Here was a wronged man, a man treated in an unjust way. And oh, does he deserve some happiness, even a moment or two of sheer bliss. When an opportunity for the latter finally arose, a palpable tension was played out between Tietjens and Valentine (who looks young enough to still be at school as a pupil). Then up pops a brother in a dreadfully inconvenient appearance.
Parade’s End is not an easy watch. It’s been compared to Downton Abbey: a ‘thinking person’s Downton’. I think that’s a little generous. With its complex and fluid timelines woven into linen slubs and dialogue that always seems to deliver about 80% of what we need to know – engage brain power to translate the inference for the rest – this is more of an ‘intellectual’s Downton’. The well-loved Downton is a costume soap alongside Parade’s End. Being familiar with the books is obviously an advantage for the viewer too.
The cast is wonderful. Sadly, in this episode the divine Rufus Sewell – in more ways than one here – was quickly despatched, and had only appeared in a non-speaking role this week. Benedict Cumberbatch is superb as Tietjens, although his voice always makes me think of someone auditioning to play Churchill. Surely that might come later in his career? Rebecca Hall delivers an imperious Sylvia in whom it is almost but never fully impossible to find a redeeming character feature. Anne-Marie Duff and Stephen Graham are complete and utter magnets on screen, both also displaying their remarkable talent in recent episodes of another series on the BBC in Accused.
The scenery is often wonderful too, as are the clothes. Parade’s End is certainly beautiful to watch.
Alas the whole package together has the feel of a dirge played on a loop. Even the pace is sedate and (like Sylvia) imperious. But the second half this week stopped me in my tracks from saying ‘I’m out’ like one of the dragons. I thought I’d had enough and suddenly I hadn’t and I want to watch more. I am left with the feeling that to stay with the complete series is to fully appreciate it. So I am not ‘out’ but still ‘in’ for the remaining two episodes. Now, I really want to know what happens to Christopher Tietjens and I am rooting for him to have some personal happiness and to prove his gossiping dissenters the bunch of hypocrites that they are. His son needs a father of whom he can be proud. The way things are going, it feels like it will end in tragedy and prove itself to be that dirge played on a loop. You can tell I am not familiar with the novels, can’t you?