Posted in: TV– February 25, 2013
Parade’s End is a grim and unvarnished story of an English statistician locked in a difficult marriage as his country prepares for war in 1914. Benedict Cumberbatch so highly regarded for his wildly mercurial portrayal of the famous detective in Sherlock is Christopher Tietjens and he’s an entirely different kettle of fish.
Tietjens is in a jam and in constant emotional pain. He’s married to Sylvia, a haughty aristocratic social climber who leads a separate life even as they share a house, openly dating men she finds interesting. She doesn’t necessarily mean to humiliate her husband; she merely takes what she wants with arctic selfishness. Tietjens suffers in grimacing silence. Cumberbatch is the anti-Sherlock, the shamed cuckold, a deeply tortured soul betrayed and often in tears, face collapsed with despair. Cumberbatch is a fascinating actor with tremendous depth and versatility and emerges as the new Daniel Day-Lewis.
Rebecca Hall’s Sylvia is a force of nature whose towering, sadistic presence and cold eyes dominate the film whether she’s onscreen or not. Her dark cloud lingers. Sylvia’s insufferable self–interest is breathtaking, concerning her husband, marriage and social position and there’s that strange, inhuman boredom with the war. Sylvia’s sociopathic lack of empathy is extraordinary in a female television character. Oh, she comes to visit Tietjens in the trenches, dressed in her finery. That’s the kind of woman she is; she had her reasons.
Parade’s End tells their story over several years as their relationship alters. Other characters wander in and out to rest the eye and brain a little, but even so, they are mostly mad. Perhaps it’s the strain of the War and a changing society. The only sane person seems to be Daisy, a young suffragette “fresh as paint” who not only catches Tietjens’ eye but gives him the comfort and love he’s been craving and a delicious taste of normal. He can’t determine if it’s real or not and whether he can risk his codependent marriage.
For a five hour series, very little actually happens. During cocktail parties, pillow talk, stolen moments on trains, drawing rooms, war trenches and beds, the focus is strictly on the intellectual and sexual, the brain and heart.
The film is lush and the environment nearly as upper crust Edwardian as Downton Abbey, but Parade’s End is its darker, unsettling cousin. The miseries our hero endures in his marriage are more horror than high toned, money can’t save him.
It is a rich and keenly observed portrait of two unforgettable characters. Parade’s End has serious editing problems and unpredictable pacing that shifts and disturbs focus. Things blast ahead into the future without set up, which is what comes with cramming four books into five hours of television. Still, it is brave and bold and worth the shock, like the feeling you get after diving into ice cold water.
Parade’s End airs on HBO Canada February 26, 27, and 28. For more info, visit hbocanada.com