HBO’s adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s PARADE’S END concluded tonight with a beautifully rousing episode that questioned what does one need to be happy. The episode opened with Christopher Tietjens being sent to the front in punishment for pushing another officer, for entering his wife’s bedroom in the middle of the night. Christopher soon learns that being 2nd in command of the 6th Battalion isn’t what it seems. The Captain is mentally incapacitated. The Battalion ignores his craziness to protect their own skin. Christopher takes control of the Battalion and with men under his care; we catch a glimpse of the man underneath the gentleman’s manner. He is cool under pressure, he has taken the time to know the men, and the men follow him gladly. The war scenes were gentle in comparison to others, but it gave us a sense of brotherhood that takes place amongst the men who fight alongside each other. It is during this time, we see Tietjens struggle with the memories he has of himself and the man he is becoming. Tietjens is literally flown into the air during a bombing and lands hard against the ground as if to symbolize the life Tietjens always fought for, being blown to smithereens. Who is this man that has landed in the dirt? Benedict Cumberbatch gives a beautiful performance of a man coming to terms with who he is becoming and what he is willing to do to make himself happy.
Sylvia, on the other hand is falling apart without Christopher to torment. Her thoughts are of what will happen to her after the war. She is sure that she has pushed Christopher into the arms of Valentine, without any proof, just her imagination. Out of sheer spite and as a last straw in her quest to get a reaction out of Christopher she has the 200-year-old Cedar tree felled at Groby, knowing Christopher will be livid. It is during this scene we understand Sylvia and her foolish ways. She will do anything to keep Christopher under her power, but it is now she is fully aware of how thin that line of control is. One misstep she loses Christopher, the husband she loves to loathe. Sylvia always received immense pleasure from playing the game Christopher and she unconsciously devised. Rebecca Hall’s performance is phenomenal, in that she is unafraid to be disliked, she revels in it actually. Her eyes let you know what she is up to, as if you are part of the game and that is the fascination of Sylvia. She lets everyone she comes into contact with know what is what and is not afraid of the talk. Sylvia is not going to apologize for the woman she is.
We find Valentine teaching at an all girls school. She is content but lonely. On her birthday she receives a telegram thinking it is from Christopher but instead it is from her brother. It is during this time Valentine’s mother realizes that Valentine is in love with Christopher Tietjens. Valentine tells her mother she will become his mistress when he returns from war. Her mother is saddened as she says, “I will not renounce the schooling of my whole life” in which Valentine replies, “But it is mine.” This one line encompasses the truth behind the series. It is each characters journey of trying to find their way in which the rules are not theirs. Adelaide Clemens encompasses all the fire Valentine possesses in such a still, graceful manner that Valentine’s declarations of being a ruined woman are spoken with such truth and knowing. She isn’t a fool. She understands what the implications of her actions are and she is at peace with it.
In the end, we the viewers are given a chance to see Christopher, Valentine and Sylvia come face to face with each other and all the chips are thrown on the table. In this quiet, truthful scene we learn how far each of these characters have come. The acting in this scene alone is a wonderful moment for fans of the series. It was so natural and has layers upon layers of subtlety that are true to the characters. It is during this scene, we have the understanding that maybe they will be happy after all. This miniseries was a delight to watch for the acting, writing, directing and cinematography. It is an intimate, lush, and grand look at the end of the parade of the Edwardian era.