Review: Parade’s End (Episode 5)

Tonight is the last hour of the miniseries! Usually I am sulky and weep when series are so short, but for once I’m okay, if not glad, to see Parade’s End come to a close. I know I was a bit iffy after the first episode, but if you missed an episode or missed the series¬† completely, it’s worth checking out later (although I’d probably watch it over a week, not a few days).

I wish episode 2 had been cut and we could have gone right into the war and events seen in episode 4, or they’d focused that hour into episode 5. It was nice to see Sylvia put some of her stubbornness to better use when she went to visit Christopher. These scenes were probably my favorites of Hall’s. I finally came to accept Sylvia as a well-rounded character, not just some crabby opposite for Christopher. Despite her uncaring and seemingly airheaded ways, she is smarter than most give her credit for (as seen in discussing Campion’s war career).

The battle scenes were fairly short, but wonderfully done. Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Christopher in the middle of such chaos, having hallucinations and being so tired and stressed were perfect, and part of me was a bit sad when Christopher’s moment was cut short.

In the end I can see why Christopher and Sylvia’s mismatched relationship worked at times (however weird it was, they did have some sort of connection and genuinely did care for each other), but I’m glad we get to see how the love triangle is resolved. We see an even more brash, irrational and cruel Sylvia than we’ve seen (oh, poor Goby House!) in the past. Her actions are exceptionally awful and they seem like kind of a jolt in the story, but Hall does a nice job of making it work, smirking and playing things off as if they were silly little things.

One of the most powerful and in my mind most important scenes of the entire series between Sylvia and Christopher is one without words-and it’s all of three seconds (although her very bold outfit certainly makes it clear what her thoughts are). The brief look they share makes it clear both parties see how much each one has changed and is an oddly quiet end to their crazy relationship.

Despite all the unhappiness that seemed to weigh down the series I am glad I stuck with it. The acting and writing were well done, and the attention to making the sets, costumes, props and cinematography will surely make Parade’s End another British drama that will be loved years from now.

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Review: Parade’s End (Episodes 2 to 4)

If you decided to stick with Parade’s End two hour long showing last night on HBO, you might feel worn out (I’m right there with you), and despite the end of the second episode being more interesting, you might want to give up. Don’t. Things actually pick up!

To recap, the second episode gave us a better peek into the social & cultural obligations surrounding Christopher and Sylvia when they get back together (like Sylvia’s mom saying a public outing is necessary or Sylvia dressing inappropriately at the funeral), but their marriage is really for public show only, something made painfully clear when he goes to talk to his wife in the bath and freaks out seeing her naked for all of four seconds. Christopher still refuses to divorce her so they continue with their separate lives.

Sylvia was a little less brash and insane, trying to be chaste in hopes of winning her husband back. I did feel bad when she excitedly hopes it is Christopher who has returned on New Years, only to find out it’s the maid and then frantically tries to hide her disappointment and embarrassment. She also buys the perfect painting for him (to “annoy him” she claims) and the moment she shows it to him, she looks truly happy, like she realized what she’s missed all the years. I was finally able to believe that maybe she really does love and care for him. It became clearer to me why the way she was/is: Women hate her for her man stealing ways and still hate her when she doesn’t want their husbands. She’s sort of forced to continue to be someone who is cruel, unloving and flirtatious–what’s left for her to be?

Christopher quits his job and goes off to fight for the place he loves so dearly, while everyone is oblivious to the war–a huge step for him! In a weird way, him telling Sylvia he’s off for war sort of brings their relationship a bit closer, or at the very least makes it more real for Sylvia. The thought of losing him causes her to be extra needy then lash out in an attempt for some sort of emotion or sign that he loves her too. But, he still decides to be miserable and refuses to let his wife into his life in any way (and when he does try, he seems shocked when she freezes him out), and refuses to act on his feelings for Valentine but he FINALLY starts to act more human!

So, what can you look forward to in episodes 3 and 4, besides more amazing sets, props and costumes?

-A few more deaths occur, throwing more gossip and social expectations into Christopher and Sylvia’s lives. You finally start to see where Parade’s End is trying to go, and you’re actually interested to see how things play out and how the characters have grown.

-What it’s like to be in Christopher’s family, his relationship with his brother & father and exactly what being a Tietjens means: all those social rules and his obsession with honor are actually explored!

-What Christopher means to the two ladies in his life, Sylvia and Valentine: he’s caught between his old life in London where the high society have thrown him out of their circles, but he still kind of wants to be part of their group (making Sylvia realize how much she loves him, despite her going back to some of her old habits) and becoming a new “modern man” who has seen war and has a chance at a life that might hold actual happiness for him.

-What war does to a country: most of the characters (except the brilliant Christopher of course) are in total denial of the war happening, and never saw it coming, so when it does hit, it hits them hard. But, instead of showing us how much it’s changed their lives, Parade’s End takes a unique view and kind of brushes over the war, almost ignoring it to a certain degree, focusing instead on character development (a very wise move in my mind).

-Valentine continues to add a bit of fresh air and life into the plot. She’s no longer “just a suffragette,” but still modern and crazy enough to show the stark contrast between the old ways and their current life. I love the job she ends up with, it really suits her!

Review: Parade’s End (Episode One)

Downton Abbey is done for the season, and the wait for Sherlock is slowly ticking by (at least I think it is…), leaving me wanting some sort of British drama to fill my time. Sure, I have a few I’m watching, but they weren’t cutting it, so when I saw Parade’s End would be debuting in the UK in August (it starts tonight on HBO for US viewers and runs through Thursday night), it seemed it would easily fill my need for a British drama and lack of Benedict Cumberbatch.

Based on the novels by Ford Maddox Ford, the five-part series focuses on a love triangle between Christopher (Benedict Cumberbatch), his wife Sylvia (Rebecca Hall) and a suffragette named Valentine (Adelaide Clemens). Adding to the drama and confusion, everyone is coping with World War 1 and an ever-changing Europe for both the wealthy and poor. Sounds promising, right? After watching the first episode, I can’t decide if I like it or not, or what is possibly “wrong” with it, but it was clear it didn’t really fill the Downton hole and lacked the wit and insanity I love in Sherlock.

Like most beginnings, the first episode is kind of dull, filled with introductions and a lot of backstory, which jumps around a few times, and flashes up some fractured image of various scenes that looks like a shattered mirror more times than it needs to (I got the symbolism there, Mr. Director).

Christopher is a no nonsense, very smart man, who unfortunately is also bound by the “old, proper ways.” He meets socialite Sylvia on a train, they have a brief encounter and ultimately she ends up pregnant. Sylvia is a party girl (I’m pretty sure will flirt and sleep with any man around), and while she’s not sure Christopher is the father, she manipulates him into marrying her. Sylvia’s cheating continues as the years go by (she admits she only does it to get some sort of emotion out of her husband), but Christopher refuses to divorce her, making their already weak and miserable marriage worse. She runs away with her new love, only to cruelly point out to him that she doesn’t love him one bit and will be returning to her husband. While she’s away, Christopher goes on vacation with a friend and meets the lovely, young and wonderful suffragette Valentine, and falls for her. However, his honor to his wife and their life together prevents him from starting anything with her.

I must admit Cumberbatch and Hall do a wonderful job of being an awfully mismatched pair who still decide to be together for whatever reason (Social? Personal?).¬† After a while though, their messy relationship and outbursts wear on you, and kind of make the plot as a whole feel very sluggish. There were many moments where I didn’t even truly care where the story was going, or what the characters were supposed to be feeling. I haven’t read the books, but like most adaptations, I suspect they are much better and explain the tumultuous relationship more clearly than the miniseries will.

Watching Christopher with his son (or “son”) was an interesting moment. He gets up to soothe the child after he wakes up with a nightmare and later considers the child when deciding if he should take Sylvia back. Usually, the mothers, or more commonly the staff and nursemaids were the ones worried about the children in a similar manner. At the same time, this caring nature is such a shocking contrast of how Christopher acts the rest of the time: very straight and narrow, sticking to the rules and overthinking everything in his life (in one scene he’s actually correcting entries in the encyclopedia). It was kind of tiring and annoying to watch, making him feel more like a prop for such grand sets and costumes. Heck, most of the time I wasn’t quite sure why he was so…antisocial. It’s possible in today’s world, meeting such a man who would put up with a wife like Sylvia and be applauded and reminded of his honor and duty is a foreign concept, making it that much harder for me to understand in general, let alone in the drama. It might also help if I knew WHY these things were so darn important to Christopher, or to his family name–maybe this will appear in a later episode.

I love most of the actors in this series. I’ve seen them in other things and know they can act, and they are the main reason I feel like soldiering on through Parade’s End. Well, at least until the second episode.