Friday, 19 October 2012

Parade's End. BBC Two.

 Parade's End is a BBC/HBO/VRT television miniseries, which premiered on BBC Two on 24 August 2012. It is an adaptation of the tetralogy of novels of the same name by Ford Madox Ford. Its five episodes are directed by Susanna White and written by Tom Stoppard. The cast is led by Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall as Christopher and Sylvia Tietjens, along with Adelaide Clemens, Rupert Everett, Miranda Richardson, Anne-Marie Duff, Roger Allam, Janet McTeer, Freddie Fox, Jack Huston and Steven Robertson.
The series was screened at the 39th Ghent Film Festival on 11 October 2012 with Benedict Cumberbatch, David Parfitt, Susanna White and Dirk Brossé in attendance.

Damien Timmer approached playwright Sir Tom Stoppard to write the adaptation, and after reading the books, Stoppard agreed to pen the screenplay. This actually marks Stoppard's return to television after a 30-year absence. Tom Stoppard stated in one of his interviews that he thought of Benedict Cumberbatch for the role of Christopher Tietjens before Sherlock made him a global star and that casting another actor is unimaginable. He was also quoted for saying that the casting of Christopher and Sylvia Tietjens needed special actors and the production has been lucky to get Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall for the parts. Adelaide Clemens was cast in the role of Valentine when she appeared at her audition in period clothing. Initially, the producers were reluctant to cast an Australian actress, until they discovered her father is a British national.
A significant part of the film was shot on location in Kent at Dorton House and St. Thomas a Becket Church. Additional scenes were filmed at Freemasons' Hall in London and Duncombe Park. The rest of the series was filmed in Belgium utilizing TV drama tax breaks.

The series received widespread acclaim from the critics with The Independent's Grace Dent proclaiming it "One of the finest things the BBC has ever made" The critics also praised the masterclass portrayal of Cumberbatch and Hall for the two lead characters. Cumberbatch was praised for his ability to superbly and compellingly suppress pain with The Independent's Gerard Gilbert saying "Perhaps no other actor of his generation is quite so capable of suggesting the tumult beneath a crusty, seemingly inert surface." and The Arts Desk's Emma Dibdin stating "Cumberbatch's performance has been faultless and often achingly moving, a painful juxtaposition of emotional stiffness and deep, crippling vulnerability". Hall's Sylvia was lauded by Caitlin Moran as "one of the great female characters of the past decade". She was also quoted on saying that "the script and direction have genius-level IQ" in her The Times TV column.
Parade's End had 3.5 million viewers for its first episode, making it BBC2's most watched drama since Rome aired in 2005.The second episode had a drop in ratings with 2.2 million viewers. There has been complains about poor sound mixing with the dialogue difficult to hear and understand. This has been denied by the BBC.
Ford Maddox Ford's tetralogy of novels has finally became a bestseller after the BBC dramatization was broadcast.

 Parade's End, I believe, is one of the finest things the BBC has ever made. Shower it with Baftas and Emmys.

Grace Dent on Television: Parade's End, BBC2

This is some of the best Sunday night TV I've ever seen – pity it's shown on Fridays
GRACE DENT    SATURDAY 08 SEPTEMBER 2012 in The Independent

Push it proudly in the world's face and say, “This is us.” This doesn't explain why, ratings-wise, it's currently playing only to me and the continuity announcer – who could well be filling in a Sudoku – on Friday nights on BBC2. Friday nights? Well, I ask you. Gross idiocy on the part of the BBC, which placed a wildly cerebral period drama chock-full of British thespian hierarchy raining down dry bons mots on a Friday night. A scarecrow with one boiled egg for an eye could see Parade's End is Sunday night, BBC1, 9pm, damp hair from a bath, comfy clothes, surrounded by Sunday supplements, mugs of tea and a half-hearted supper of cheese and crackers as one over-ate at lunchtime, type of TV. It's Downton Abbey with a massive, complex brain. It's Benedict Cumberbatch, Geoffrey Palmer, Rufus Sewell, Stephen Graham and Rupert Everett bumbling about in top hats being hit on by sexually-emancipated Suffragettes and blasted at by the Hun. It's Miranda Richardson and Rebecca Hall and Anne-Marie Duff in hats and hobble skirts conducting oddly saucy affairs of the heart.

It's Cumberbatch playing Christopher Tietjens in a huge, perplexing love triangle being jolly confused about it and staring into thin air for hours. Oh, the staring. Not since BBC1's Birdsong have posh, emotionally numb people been filmed staring until their retinas become crispy while a viola plays a lot of minor chords to denote the unbearable state of being. I lap this sort of TV up. Give me buckets of the wondrous Sylvia Tietjens (Rebecca Hall) storming through drawing rooms full of startled maids shouting: “I will be in my room praying for death… or at least packing for it!” Or clandestine moments of wild and morally louche, Edwardian sex in private railway carriages or cartfulls of big-hatted busy-bodies passing by manor houses “for tea” but really intent on causing mischief with tittle-tattle. Sylvia Tietjens, incidentally, is one of the greatest roles ever written for women. The fact it took a man to do this while Austen or Bronte's heroines are blithering irritants in bonnets fainting at the sight of light drizzle, I shall sulkily draw a veil over.

Sylvia is glamorous, dark-humoured, razor-witted, self-serving and due to her gender has been denied education or a job. All Sylvia's surplus energy is channelled into acts of light-evil, caustic demolition and pig-headed glee. In the first episode, – which you missed as you were in the pub, or perhaps you have a partner who threatens to put his head under the grill whenever a period drama starts so you have to watch Mrs. Brown's Boys or Russell Howard's Good News, instead (poor you) – Sylvia absconds from her dull husband Chrissy (Cumberbatch) with a stalwart lover, but then after a short sojourn of wild sex changes her mind. As Sylvia's lover waves a gun in her face threatening to kill her, a smile plays about her mouth as she bitches idly about the shaming quality of hotel notepaper she's forced to write her “Please have me back” letter on. So sublimely disrespectful, I inwardly quack at the mere memory. While Chrissy Tietjens is crucified permanently by convention and Edwardian expectation, his wife's sense of duty to “how things should be” is like fleeting fog. Sylvia takes infuriating to an art form. And in Parade's End, where the throwaway tale of someone dropping a glove in the street, repeated at 10 tea-parties, can become the scandal of the summer (a lot of these characters really need a good slap), Sylvia's the scandalous gift that keeps on giving. Novelist Tom Stoppard's wholly non-macho approach to war is fascinating. We feel World War One approaching but instead of being thrown into the bloodshed, we hang back in polite society watching the women, the objectors, the skivers and the politically corrupt. Parade's End is an earnest look at the end of a British era, still pinned in place by rules of behaviour and a sense of staying proper, before war swept aside etiquette and slaughtered all in its path. I love the representation of the first Suffragettes, fighting for some level of equality, but wholly befuddled by what to do with their new freedom. Stoppard's heroines fight for sexual freedom and then find it makes them mistresses, when it's always better, when all's said and done, to be the actual wife.

Not that Sylvia finds marriage much fun “Higher than the beasts, lower than the angels: stuck between the two in our idiots' Eden,” she tells her husband. “God, I'm so bored of it all. Guarding or granting permission to a temple no decent butcher would give to his offal tray, I'd rather be a cow in a field.” Simply beautiful. But you're not watching it are you? Poor Benedict Cumberbatch BAFTA-ing himself into an early Starlight Retirement Home on BBC2 for you all, but it's Friday and you're too tired by life to bother. Shame on you Great Britain. Shame on you.

 Christopher Tietjens
Played by Benedict Cumberbatch
Christopher Tietjens is an English aristocrat clinging to Edwardian values as the world around him seems to change at dizzying speed. He refuses to compromise these principles whatever the cost – resigning from his job as a government statistician when he is asked to manipulate the facts, and remaining faithful to Sylvia even when she leaves him for another man. When Christopher falls in love with Valentine, a young suffragette, he faces a battle between what he feels for her and what he feels is right.

Sylvia Tietjens
Played by Rebecca Hall
Sylvia is a stunningly beautiful socialite who marries Christopher Tietjens because she is pregnant – although not necessarily with his child… She is selfish, manipulative and cruel, yet also mesmerising. Forever restless, Sylvia enjoys a stream of affairs, but she is secretly hurt by the fact that Christopher does not seem to notice her.

Valentine Wannop
Played by Adelaide Clemens
Valentine is a young suffragette who lives with her mother, a novelist. She bursts into Christopher’s life when she ambushes a cabinet minister and needs his help to escape. Smart, passionate and idealistic, she is terrified when Christopher goes to war, and frustrated that he cannot be honest about his feelings for her.

Tom Stoppard returns to TV for BBC drama
Benedict Cumberbatch plays 'the last Tory' Christopher Tietjens in five-part adaptation of Parade's End for BBC2
Vicky Frost
The Guardian, Friday 27 July 2012

He plays an emotionally repressed, highly intelligent gentleman with a complicated line in female relationships. But Benedict Cumberbatch is swapping modern-day sleuthing to play "the last Tory" Christopher Tietjens in a new adaptation of Parade's End by Tom Stoppard.

BBC2's five-part drama based on Ford Madox Ford's tetralogy, set in 1914, marks Stoppard's return to television, with his first project for the corporation in decades.

Stoppard, although familiar with Ford's earlier novel The Good Soldier, only started reading the quartet of books after it was suggested he might adapt them. The writer, who watches television "sporadically", said he realised "damn quickly I really wanted the job".

But it was not without challenges. "The structure of the books is not linear, nor does it fall into five equal parts, it's a modernist novel with a thought towards experimentalism, and most of all, as with many adaptations, you have the problem that there's a lot of interesting stuff going on in the novel, without necessarily having the dramatic momentum or even the physical concrete dimension to it," he said at a screening of the drama.

Stoppard's involvement, and that of Bafta award-winning director Susanna White, has helped attract a cast that includes Rufus Sewell, Rupert Everett, Stephen Graham and Rebecca Hall – who plays Tietjens's socialite wife Sylvia.

Cumberbatch – much in demand in the UK and US following his role as Sherlock in the BBC1 drama – was one of only "a tiny handful" of actors who could have played Tietjens, a highly principled, brilliant government statistician, said White.

But, with Parade's End cast before Sherlock hit screens, the director and Stoppard first had to convince American broadcaster HBO, which has produced the drama with the BBC.

"HBO said 'Who is this Benedict?' and we said: 'Trust us, he's truly a great actor and by the time Parade's End comes out everyone will have heard of him," said White. "Of course now, everybody in America has heard of him and he's playing the villain in Star Trek."

Parade's End, due to broadcast later this summer, transports audiences to the end of the Edwardian era and the time of the Great War, as also have BBC1's recent adaptation of Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong, and the hugely popular second series of Downton Abbey.

"Everything changed afterwards," said Stoppard, explaining the period's importance. "It was the last period of social history among the top half of the English class system. People of a later generation might say that of 1939 – but in the case of 1914 there really is a sense of an important page being turned, never to be turned back again."

There is also a certain resonance between Tietjen's moral view of the world – central to the plot is the relationship between Tietjen and his wife, and the young suffragette Valentine Wannop – and the questions currently preoccupying society, said White.

"People are asking a lot of moral questions about how we behave as a society. About our values, the environment, money and how politicians behave … it might not be immediately obvious what an old-fashioned Tory has to say to us now, but actually I think there's a lot that chimes."

Parade's End, final episode, BBC Two, review
Serena Davies reviews the final episode of Tom Stoppard’s BBC Two adaptation of Ford Madox Ford's Edwardian novels Parade's End.
By Serena Davies 21 Sep 2012 in The Telegraph

So what, finally, did Parade’s End amount to? The last episode of Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s doorstopper has aired on BBC Two. Half its scenes were of war and gory wounds; the other half of society chat, which came with its own form of lacerations, in the cutting remarks of the witchy Sylvia Tietjens (Rebecca Hall).
The BBC has thrown a lot at this drama: huge amounts of cash (American moneybags HBO helped out), two leads (Hall and Benedict Cumberbatch) with burgeoning Hollywood careers, and a script by Britain’s Greatest Living Playwright (arguably).
Stoppard duly delivered a screenplay that was ever astute, often funny and nearly always lucid – a feat considering the source material is frequently impenetrable. The script was also that remarkable thing in this Downton-saturated age: never sentimental.
In the final episode, noble, unglamorous hero Christopher Tietjens (Cumberbatch) finally got to the Front. There he met a shell-shocked CO who liked to summon pot shots from the Germans by careering across No Man’s Land. In Steven Robertson’s mercurial performance he had a whiff of Brideshead’s Sebastian Flyte about him: destroyed by hateful circumstances, but a bit of an immature fool to begin with.
The CO was spared the snipers (that would have been too obviously sad) but Sylvia’s twerp of a lover, Potty Perowne, was buried up to his neck by a shell, a fixed grin turned heavenwards. This moment elicited the evening’s funniest line. Sylvia, after defending her affair with him to her mother by saying it was an act of charity – “as Jesus would have done” then added: “They say he died with a smile on his face. Potty, that is.”
But ultimately the finale of Parade’s End broke down into a series of clever vignettes, such as the one I describe above, without ever really bringing home the soaring passions and the heart-rending frustrations of the three lead characters that we had seen so poetically played out in the drama’s flawless first two parts. Hall’s proud Sylvia, with her inexpressible love for her husband, had in episode two soared to a figure of tragic stature. But by the close of the series, her cap now set at the buffoonish General Campion, she had become a caricature. Similarly, earlier in the series, Tietjens and his suffragette friend Valentine Wannop had talked touchingly of mutual respect when really they meant love. But on Friday, barely had they been reunited after the war than they were dancing openly in the firelight together in the drama’s closing minutes.
I think Stoppard had to rush it at the end. The adaptation spent three episodes of its allotted five telling the story of the first of Ford’s four novels. Perhaps this was why we didn’t have the time fully to appreciate the transformation worked by the war on Tietjens, where the battle’s brutality and immediacy had finally convinced him of the importance of living day by day, so that he could then jettison his principles and love Valentine publicly despite the fact he was married to another woman.
All that said, it was a very fine thing, this drama. A thoughtful adaptation of an important book that was immaculately acted and directed with great visual flair by Susanna White. Its unpredictability, its love of irony and British eccentricity, and its sheer originality shall be much missed.

No comments: