A distressed and exhausted Christopher is feeling the true horror of war.
While Christopher is struggling to maintain his mask of normality in extraordinary circumstances, Sylvia manipulates various men to visit him in Rouen.
Each week this drama unfurls further, revealing more of the facets of each character, enriching the story and with each step that is taken there is a cruel inevitability that there will be no happy endings for these characters. Sylvia is determined to possess Christopher in a way, to see him crumble just so she can deny him as she feels that he has denied her. She is determined to have him, even if it destroys them both. In this episode she claimed to have had no other man for over five years but they are trapped in some kind of tangled web that she has woven – fearful to let him leave as he is a challenge to her but she can’t bear to have him stay as she doesn’t really love him, not deep down. Sylvia likes the life that someone of Christopher’s standing provides but his stock is going down and he has all but alienated himself from everyone, a broken man desperately scrabbling to get a foot hold but finding nothing but falling sand beneath his feet. The life and principles he was used to are all but gone, washed away by the flood of war and although he is somewhat cold towards his wife, he is a sensitive man who appears to need an outlet for his affection. Christopher’s compassionate side can be seen in his need to look after the men in his battalion, even getting into a huge amount of trouble so a man could get a pass from the barracks to visit his mother, his love of horses showing through in his kindly treatment of the animals, he seems to understand them a lot more than humans and at least they won’t betray him. In these tempestuous times, we join Christopher as he prepares his soldiers for the draft.
As Christopher slaved away tirelessly for his men, fighting the bureaucracy of the war, pushing paper and attempting to abide by every small rule but having obstacles placed in his way at every turn, Sylvia was becoming restless back in England. Despite being told that she could not see her husband, this didn’t stop her from attempting to thwart the plans to keep her away from Rouen, almost like a game she was persistent to the last, demanding to see Christopher as he had not written to her and although she seemed to have no genuine desire to see him, the contest to see if she could get there was a challenge that she intended to fulfil. At first Sylvia tried asking nicely, then writing letters to General Campion (Roger Allam) and even visiting Christopher’s brother Mark who was not best pleased to see her. Mark was far more receptive to Valentine as she asked about Christopher’s health and she was assured that he was fine, she had gotten a job at a school at this point. Christopher was awaiting news on when his men were to move out but the orders kept on changing.
Sylvia eventually found a way to reach Christopher and turned up quite unannounced, causing inconvenience to General Campion, leading Potty (an ex-lover) on further and making life more difficult for Christopher. At first in his makeshift office, the only things Christopher appeared to have to worry about were lack of fire extinguishers and the red tape surrounding matters such. He was also to make decisions on things such as compassionate leave. An air raid forced Christopher and his men to hunker down to try and keep safe, two of the men being sent out to fetch candles and run other orders while Christopher attempted to calm his colleague McKechnie who was bordering on hysterical. One of the men returned safely from his errand while the other was stricken by a bomb and saluted before falling to his death in the hut, Christopher cradled him in his arms and tried to keep his head while all around his men were losing theirs. As Christopher wiped the blood from his hands he realised that had he perhaps granted the compassionate leave that the soldier would not be dead and this appeared to haunt him further. While at the start when his duties were light and things were going well there was great use of light in that it was bright at the start then when the bombs were dropping, Christopher’s face was shrouded in darkness and he struggled to maintain his composure.
Summoned to the gates he was told a woman was waiting for him, Christopher’s heart seemed to flutter and his eyes lit up as he believed for a second that it might just be Valentine, he ran through the mud and darkness desperate to see the girl who made his eyes light up and his face flush only to see Sylvia departing in the car. After displeasing a General by defying his orders, a wary Christopher went up to bed. At his hotel Sylvia came to his adjoining room to talk to him but he was exhausted and spent, falling asleep almost immediately on lying on the bed. Waking to receive a message with the new orders he got into heated discussion with Sylvia that led to passion between the two but due to Sylvia’s complete inability to say no to a man, Potty came to her bedroom door only for Christopher to throw him out and when General O’Hara got involved Christopher was arrested. With General Campion realising the predicament that Christopher was in with his wife, he offered some advice. Will Christopher try and make his marriage with Sylvia work for the sake of their son and marriage or will he return to Valentine, his true love and the only woman who appears to fully understand him?
‘Parade’s End’ does show the horror of what war can do to a man both physically and emotionally, echoing the need for Hotchkiss to break in the horses, the men are also being broken in to try and toughen them against the impact of what the war will do to them. For many, the war would eat them up and spit them out and Christopher’s slow decline in health mentally and his physical exhaustion over the course of the episode was heartbreaking. He appeared to fall into Sylvia’s arms just for the comfort rather than for what she could offer him long-term.
Despite the terrible tragedies of the war, the episode had a stream of humour throughout allowing the ludicrous comedy of circumstance to naturally come through – this is apparently something Ford Madox Ford did in the books. The change in orders constantly, sometimes even during the original orders being communicated to the men and the Blackadder-esque flourishes such as General Campion like a larger than life General Melchett, advising his assistant to ‘note that down’, he may as well have added the name ‘Darling’ to the end of his statement but I think this was intended.The contest between Christopher and his colleague about who could compose a sonnet quicker and then translate it was another example of the distractions that men would give themselves to take their mind off the situation and the competition was quite heated.
As always, everything about this drama has been absorbing and the emotions played out to perfection, an absolute gem of a drama and should be held up as a shining example of how compelling television drama can be. Rebecca Hall gets better every week and her monologue was so well-played out but after her behaviour it was hard to figure out if she really meant anything she said. Benedict Cumberbatch was amazing as always and Roger Allam really came into his own as moustached General Campion.
With the complicated lives coming to a swirling conclusion in the final episode next week, there is sure to be more drama to come but will there be a happy ending for Christopher and Valentine?