Times are troubled and so are the lives of Christopher, Sylvia and Valentine.
As war breaks out, Christopher clings to his principles, even if it means denying his feelings for Valentine.
As luxuriant as bathing in warm chocolate, ‘Parade’s End’ is a lavish tale where passion bubbles beneath the surface of polite society while the world stands on the cusp of war. Each character is fighting their own war and the sad fact is that not one person appears to be winning, perhaps only MacMaster with his increasing popularity. The drama is performed so perfectly with the acting absolutely sublime; truly an accomplishment from all of the cast, crew and writers.
This week began with Christopher travelling to pick up his wife in Germany, only to find his estranged spouse dressed in black and with news that his mother has died while he was travelling. Benedict Cumberbatch is outstanding in this role, being told the news he looked as if he had just had his guts kicked out and the devastation shone in his ice blue eyes before he held his ground and refused to show the emotion in front of Sylvia. Sylvia spent her time once more attempting to throttle a response from her hard-shelled husband, bringing focus on herself at her mother-in-law’s funeral, teasing men and standing in front of him undressed, but on every occasion he showed no emotion towards her – even turning away when seeing her naked. Despite her previous behaviour she was true to her word and only appeared to flirt with men rather than acting on her desires – the more Christopher ignored her, the more she wanted him, appearing to need his affection and attention but resentful of his behaviour towards her. The pair spent a great deal of time apart, as if in different worlds – Sylvia attending raucous New Year parties while Christopher spent sober times with his family.
MacMaster was availing himself of the good reputation he had built up and he was becoming quite well liked within his social circles whereas Christopher was falling further and further out of favour with his attitudes and a world-changing around him that he no longer felt that he understood. MacMaster’s dalliances with Mrs Duchemin led to secret liaisons in a hotel but on being seen in the grounds by a bishop, Mrs Duchemin was beside herself and demanded to be taken home. Christopher, being gentlemanly escorted her onto the train but was seen with the sobbing lady causing a ripple of gossip among his fellows, especially as he was spotted with Valentine in the past – through no fault of his own he was gaining a poor reputation by being kind. Valentine’s wholesome view of those around her was shattered when Mrs Duchemin admitted that she was pregnant with MacMaster’s child and her romanticised views of honour and trust were torn apart. As war broke out, with his decision to leave his job and join the army, Christopher found that the reaction of Sylvia and others were what he expected entirely but on seeing Valentine his eyes softened and he became distraught as they talked. Christopher really comes alive when he speaks to Valentine and she genuinely seems to understand him better than anyone, despite her own naivety. The last scene with Christopher and Valentine was so beautifully touching, with acting so perfect that it was so easy to genuinely believe that Benedict Cumberbatch and Adelaide Clemens were the two ill-fated lovers.
As with many period dramas, particularly with a romantic twist, there is an element of ‘Oh for goodness sakes, get together!’ but that is more to do with the world I live in now rather than the views of the times. This episode was far more measured and flowed much better than the first episode, being that we now know the characters a little more and there was less jumping around in time. The story is beautifully timed and Rebecca Hall is a fantastic choice for the melodramatic, bored, pouting, spoiled brat with a flourish for drama – with comments such as “I will be in my room, praying for death, or at least packing for it!” the stunning Sylvia steals the show. Having always found Benedict Cumberbatch’s acting to be awe-inspiring in the past, in ‘Parade’s End’ he has really raised his game – stern and stubborn when required, warm and sensitive with anger and passion; this actor has it all and if there aren’t any awards for ‘Parade’s End’ in the future then it will truly be a tragedy as the whole production is immensely watchable and a story well worth bringing back into the public consciousness. An all round amazing drama.