Parade’s End, I believe, is one of the finest things the BBC has ever made. Shower it with Baftas and Emmys.
Push it proudly in the world’s face and say, “This is us.” This doesn’t explain why, ratings-wise, it’s currently playing only to me and the continuity announcer – who could well be filling in a Sudoku – on Friday nights on BBC2. Friday nights? Well, I ask you. Gross idiocy on the part of the BBC, which placed a wildly cerebral period drama chock-full of British thespian hierarchy raining down dry bons mots on a Friday night. A scarecrow with one boiled egg for an eye could see Parade’s End is Sunday night, BBC1, 9pm, damp hair from a bath, comfy clothes, surrounded by Sunday supplements, mugs of tea and a half-hearted supper of cheese and crackers as one over-ate at lunchtime, type of TV. It’s Downton Abbey with a massive, complex brain. It’s Benedict Cumberbatch, Geoffrey Palmer, Rufus Sewell, Stephen Graham and Rupert Everett bumbling about in top hats being hit on by sexually-emancipated Suffragettes and blasted at by the Hun. It’s Miranda Richardson and Rebecca Hall and Anne-Marie Duff in hats and hobble skirts conducting oddly saucy affairs of the heart.
It’s Cumberbatch playing Christopher Tietjens in a huge, perplexing love triangle being jolly confused about it and staring into thin air for hours. Oh, the staring. Not since BBC1’s Birdsong have posh, emotionally numb people been filmed staring until their retinas become crispy while a viola plays a lot of minor chords to denote the unbearable state of being. I lap this sort of TV up. Give me buckets of the wondrous Sylvia Tietjens (Rebecca Hall) storming through drawing rooms full of startled maids shouting: “I will be in my room praying for death… or at least packing for it!” Or clandestine moments of wild and morally louche, Edwardian sex in private railway carriages or cartfulls of big-hatted busy-bodies passing by manor houses “for tea” but really intent on causing mischief with tittle-tattle. Sylvia Tietjens, incidentally, is one of the greatest roles ever written for women. The fact it took a man to do this while Austen or Bronte’s heroines are blithering irritants in bonnets fainting at the sight of light drizzle, I shall sulkily draw a veil over.
The World of Parade’s End
This is a very good description of the compelling protagonist in Parade’s End, Christopher Tietjens. He IS a profoundly good man who makes, for the reader or viewer of the BBC series, some very frustrating decisions. Decisions that cause him and the people he loves (and who love him) pain. The mini-series is a fine distillation of a 900-page tetralogy. I would add that it is a very challenging book, so you may find it more accessible in audio form. Also, non-Brits may need to brush up on their WWI history. You’ll want a dictionary handy, too. (Such a pleasure to find new words on the page!) Enjoy intrepid readers, enjoy.