Parade’s End is based on a series of books by Ford Madox Ford, an English writer who lived at the turn of the twentieth century. There’s a lot to love about this well-made period drama, gorgeous costumes, pastoral sets that leave you aching for days-gone-by, and stellar acting. Great care was taken with the writing, yielding beautifully-crafted lines delivered with equal measures of grace and gravitas. The depth of character and emotion reflected in the first two episodes leaves me hopeful that whatever the conclusion, it will be worth the journey. Those who enjoy period attire shouldn’t miss the array of costumes, not just on the women but on the men as well, for a glimpse of early 1900’s fashion.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Christopher Tietjens, a straight-laced English bureaucrat who only seems to get excited when people challenge his figures. Tietjens begins as a stiff-up-lip sort of character that it’s hard to imagine growing to like, but he worms his way into the heart with a combination of care and intellect that I found remarkable.
After a brief tryst on a train with socialite Sylvia Satterthwaite (Rebecca Hall), she tells him she’s pregnant. Though he has doubts about the child’s paternity, Tietjens does the honorable thing and marries her. There’s some hope that the marriage might work out, as he admits to his brother there’s something compelling about her that he can’t quantify, but that hope is quickly extinguished when she sleeps with another man the night before her wedding.
Though Tietjens doesn’t resent the child as might be expected, their marriage isn’t an easy one. While he shows the boy an uncharacteristic amount of affection, his relationship to Sylvia is distant. It seems, at least early on, that she feels cramped by his stuffy exterior. As the story continues it becomes more apparent that she just wants to get a reaction from him, no matter the cost.
Eventually, Sylvia leaves Tietjens, and goes abroad with another man. Though he might be expected to divorce her, he believes that would ruin her, and staunchly refuses. He tells his friend Macmaster that a gentleman wouldn’t do that to a lady, which only reinforces his hefty sense of honor that drives the story. It’s in this greatest moment of honor that Tietjens meets the actual third party in this love triangle, Valentine Wannop (Adelaide Clemens). Valentine is a naïve suffragette who draws Tietjens instantly with her charm and curiosity. She carries the other side of his lofty conversations with ease, and still manages to put him in his place. The dialogue between them is some of the best in the first two episodes.
While I’m not a fan of the love triangle in general, I enjoy the way this one has played out so far. I find it refreshing that the man is the honorable party here, contrary to the usual portrayal of the man as the fiend. Tietjens is trying to do the right thing and Valentine loves him all the more for it. One of my biggest smiles in this first part came when she’s at a cricket match and someone there accuses her of having an affair with him. Rather than be upset because the man calls her a whore, she’s angry that she challenges Tietjens’s honor.
I’m looking forward to the next two parts of this one! Watch the next episode tonight and catch the review of Part Two by David Pergolini on the site tomorrow.