Parade’s End Episode Three: Benedict Cumberbatch and Adelaide Clemens share great chemistry & Rupert Everett shines as rumours start to circle about Christopher’s personal life.
As Parade’s End is based on a quartet of novels by Ford Maddox Ford, whose life is being celebrated on BBC2 throughout the run of this drama, it’s interesting to see how much plot there is to get through. I personally have not read the books but so far have felt that Tom Stoppard’s adaptation has been fine in pacing the action in each episode so that there’s enough story to interest us but we are also left with some time to get to know the characters. I found that this third episode really slowed down the pace that Stoppard had built up by focusing a lot more on the rumours surrounding Christopher Tietjens’ personal life which may have an impact on both his reputation and his inheritance.
Based on what happened last week I was sure we were going to be in the trenches for the majority of this instalment but instead the episode opens in 1916 as our hero is in the MilitaryCasualty Clearing Section in France, after suffering a concussion. It seems though that Parade’s End is much more interested in exploring the war at home rather than the one going on in France, as Christopher’s wife Sylvia is seen suffering due to her being viewed as a German sympathiser.
As always in this episode Sylvia has plenty of men sniffing around, with the latest being Brownlie a banker who makes life difficult for Christopher both financially and in regards his marriage. Though he wrongly believes that Christopher and MacMaster are sharing Edith Duchemin as a lover, he is right in the fact that Valentine Wannop is madly in love with him. The rumour circulating about Valentine and Christopher is that they have been together and produced a war baby which she then aborted. It is unfortunate that this hearsay gets spread around the club with Christopher’s brother Mark, played by Rupert Everett – who gets a lot more to do this week – believing them to be true without even confirming them with Christopher. When Mark relays this information back to his father Christopher is essentially cut out from his will while Brownlie cancels a cheque meant for him leaving him essentially ruined and meaning he has to go back to the war.
Though for me the rumour-circulating plot became a tad repetitive, this episode did at least give us scenes which saw Christopher and Valentine finally confessing their feelings for each other. As Sylvia realises that it is Valentine rather than Edith that Christopher has feelings for she pushes him towards her so that they may feel equal following all the awful things that she’s done. Though he does tell her that he wants her to be his mistress through a series of mishaps, involving slow trains and rowdy sailors, he doesn’t do the deed making Sylvia the first wife in history to be upset that her husband hasn’t had an affair. Elsewhere this week we see the once timid Edith and MacMaster have become the toast of the town with both of them mixing in new social circles following him becoming an invaluable piece of the puzzle at the statistics office. After he takes credit for an assignment on which Christopher did most of the work, he is also later knighted though he worries that this new honour will make him lose his friend he needn’t have worried as it seems that Mr Tietjens doesn’t really care about awards.
Despite the fact that I felt that this week had a fairly slow-moving plot what stuck with me the most were some of the lines delivered which does demonstrate that Stoppard is an expert at picking the best parts of the dialogue to use in the drama. I love Sylvia sticking up for her husband describing him as ‘the straightest man in London’ and later ‘the last decent man left in England’ though later she berates him for not doing the deed with Valentine telling him that she was ‘ready to drop into your mouth like a grape.’ This wonderful dialogue is beautifully delivered by a cast who convincingly portray the changes in their characters as the years have gone on with some doing better than others. Benedict Cumberbatch is totally convincing as this brilliant man whose war injury has caused him to lose some of his memories, however not his mathematical skills it seems, but at the same time isn’t as emotionally crippled as he had been. Rebecca Hall plays Sylvia as someone who has grown-up a little since the war started while Adelaide Clemens shows us that Valentine has grown up a great deal even getting a job to help her mother out. I also loved Anne-Marie Duff and Stephen Graham’s double act as Edith and MacMaster journey into the upper echelons of society they both excel at putting on airs and graces with he in particular looking great with his long beard and monocle combo.
The style of the piece continues to immaculate as the costumes and sets continue to be some of the best thing about Parade’s End. Edith and Sylvia’s various outfits demonstrate that they are now both women of high society while Valentine continues to wear mainly white as a way to mark her out as someone of a lesser class which is later confirmed when Sylvia describes her as a chamber maid. Though we didn’t get to see a lot of the war what we did was convincing with the few scenes in the military hospital proving effective as a confused Christopher has to deal with explosions happening all around him. I also loved the close-up shots of Christopher and Valentine as they attempted in vein to cement their relationship the faces of Cumberbatch and Clemens perfectly captured two people who were genuinely in love with each other.
Overall I would say that this is the weakest of the three episodes of Parade’s End we’ve seen so far but that’s not to mean it’s bad by any means but rather it doesn’t live up to the standard set by the first two instalments. For me this episode only kicked in during the final third with Christopher and Valentine’s relationship being the main point of interest throughout the fact it is finally focus on in detail meant that Parade’s End set-up a love triangle which will have major consequences for the rest of the series. The great cast and stylish edge that Parade’s End has means that even a weaker episode has plenty to enjoy and from what I’ve already seen the final two instalments will be as strong if not stronger than what has come before.