Parade’s End Episode 1 Review

A beautiful tale of a turbulent marriage in equally turbulent times

Although slightly difficult to get into at first due to the speedy course of events, this lavish and beautifully fragile drama of the intertwining stiff upper-lip and passionate emotions of a well to do gentleman and his flighty wife is truly spellbinding television.

Given that there was a little confusion at first and some surprising sexual scenes in the first five minutes, I was truthfully unimpressed initially but then the storyline and the terrific performances really drew me in. By the end of the episode I was hugely captivated by the tale and I’m very much looking forward to the continuation of the story.

The drama began with a beautiful socialite, Sylvia (Rebecca Hall), preparing for her wedding to the intellectual aristocrat Christopher Tietjens (The remarkable Benedict Cumberbatch). However, her nuptials were bringing her little joy as she was already having an affair and pregnant – although Christopher was unsure as to whether the child she was carrying was his due to her flighty nature and promiscuity. Somewhat a marriage of inconvenience for Christopher, he was determined to stand by Sylvia despite his misgivings. Once married, Christopher doted upon the child regardless of his paternity yet Sylvia seemed to care very little for her offspring, even leaving him behind when deciding to run away with another gentleman. Once away from her husband, Sylvia was treating her lover terribly and while her decision to return to Christopher even had her lover threatening her with a gun, she merely looked scornfully upon him before sending a telegram to her husband.

Although Christopher’s disdain of his wife was palpable he appeared sensitive and compassionate to other people and animals so it was difficult to know if he had hardened due to Sylvia’s treatment or if she was attention seeking due to his indifference to her. Either way, they couldn’t have been more ill-matched, Christopher had tried to save her from social ruin by marrying her before giving birth but she seemed more interested in his social status, money, property and although she appeared to admire his intellect she did little but torment him with her actions with other men, even though he tried not to give her the satisfaction of letting her know.

Traversing a thin line between sticking to his principles and remaining socially relevant in his circles, Christopher seemed to go through the motions at social gatherings trying not to lose his temper and in this he was mainly assisted by his friend, MacMaster (an amazing performance by Stephen Graham) whom it appears is not as well-connected as Christopher. While awaiting news on what his wife intended to do next and eager to help MacMaster get further into polite society, a surprising turn of events on a golf course led to Christopher meeting the feisty and passionate suffragette Valentine (Adelaide Clemens). Meeting again at a breakfast and Christopher helping Valentine with a delicate situation, the pair found great chemistry between them, Valentine understanding Christopher much more than anyone has ever even tried and her intelligence intriguing the confused gentleman. While everyone outside of his marriage thinks he is a very lucky man to have bagged such a catch as Sylvia, unaware of her infidelities, Christopher feels trapped by his burgeoning feelings for Valentine and his very firmly held principles. All of this set upon the backdrop of political unrest and the threat of world war.

With an amazing cast and an intricate storyline interlaced with a highly charged love story, Parade’s End is such a wonderful triumph, yet another amazing drama on the BBC. I admit that it took a short while to pique my interest but once it did, I was transfixed. Rebecca Hall is fantastic as the cruel yet vulnerable Sylvia, playing every moment of her role with relish; while you can find her despicable, there are aspects to her personality that lead to you to a sort of understanding of her behaviour, constrained by the attitudes of the times. On the other hand, she is so terribly mean and disregarding of her husbands feelings that you find yourself with little sympathy for this attention seeking brat.

Benedict Cumberbatch is once again consistently brilliant as a hard faced yet soft centred man, claustrophobic in a situation in which he never intended to find himself and although his intelligence is patently obvious, he cannot seem to work out a way to escape his plight, keep his son and battle his strong moral values to seek out what he really wants in life. It will be very interesting to see exactly how the situation plays out between the three main characters and I suspect that whatever happens, a happy ending perhaps may not be on the horizon for any of them. Although dramatic, there is also a stream of humour running throughout the story, almost mocking the situation in which the characters find themselves and there are so many undiscovered facets to each personality that exploring their lives promises to make outstanding television.

Patchy at first but well worth persevering with.