- Parade's End
- February 26-28, 9 p.m., HBO
The HBO/BBC miniseries Parade’s End, based on Ford Madox Ford’s acclaimed 1920s quartet of novels, is very British indeed. Partly that means it’s full of dry, biting wit, but partly that means its main character is so upstanding and repressed that he’s a bit of a drag to spend five hours with. Rising star Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) stars as stuffy, uptight bureaucrat Christopher Tietjens, who comes from an aristocratic family and is clinging to old traditions as Great Britain heads into World War I.
Cumberbatch is a model of stiff-upper-lipness as Christopher, but it’s Rebecca Hall as his flighty socialite wife Sylvia who really steals the show. Sylvia spends the entire series attempting to make Christopher miserable, via her liaisons with other men and her exploitation of his sense of duty, especially as she keeps him from the true love of his life, young suffragette Valentine Wannop (Adelaide Clemens). Hall’s vibrant performance, with her spirited delivery of Sylvia’s acid-tongued barbs, is consistently entertaining, but Christopher’s endless propriety gets a little tedious.
With four novels to adapt, writer Tom Stoppard and director Susanna White have a lot of material to cover, and the series’ pacing is choppy and uneven throughout; sometimes it seems as if scenes have been omitted as the narrative jumps ahead in time or from one place to another. Christopher and Sylvia’s sparring gets tiresome as it goes around in circles, and White isn’t particularly effective at depicting the horrors of combat once Christopher goes off to war. Parts of Parade’s End work as top-notch period drama, but the parts that don’t work ultimately drag the whole series down.