Parade's End is infinitely better than Downton Abbey. But despite being set in the same period, the comparison is not fair. DA is an-open ended continuing series, whereas Parade's End is five hours long, full stop; an adaptation of what some critics thought of as an impenetrable or unadaptable series of novels.
Yet, Stoppard was not deterred. Good for him, and us.
Parade's End tells the story of Chrissie Tietjens,"the last Tory", and one of the most brilliant minds of his generation, watching stone-facedly as "his Jerusalem", "his green and pleasant land" vanishes before him, being replaced by trade unions, suffragettes, a rise in Roman Catholicism, loose morals, liberalism, partisanship trumping what is right, a totally Twit of the Year officious ruling aristocracy (h/t Monty Python), and just the whole world going to hell in a hand basket.
And, oh yeah, his drop dead gorgeous socialite Irish Roman Catholic wife is a horrible flirt and adulterer; spoiled rotten, and so consumed with only herself that at one point she uses one of her past flings to get her to the Western Front so as to ask her husband if she can be allowed to take up residence at his old family pile, Groby. (The Wife and I literally wanted to strangle her throughout the entire series.)
Stoppard has done such a masterful job with this material, and has created something perhaps lately unique, a "film" that demands repeated viewings not because of glorious sweeping visual moments, or hilarious sight gags, or jokes; but so the viewer can completely digest and settle with some of the seriously breathtakingly lovely high brow novelistic dialogue. Honestly, there are some scenes I will simply have to watch again. And, I am greatly looking forward to that. This is not a film that speaks down to its audience in any way whatsoever. And, you really can not blink, either. A lot of serious plot points are not played on the screen, at all. You must pay rapt attention, though the rewards are worth such rapturous devotion.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Chrissie Tietjens, and Rebecca Hall plays his wife, Sylvia. It is some of the finest acting I have seen in a while. Cumberbatch, in particular, is really building quite an impressive CV. Cumberbatch's posture, face, and strange muttering strangled voice almost completely make you forget about the actor. (That voice can be a challenge though for viewers. We watched it with subtitles, just so we could get every juicy word.) Ms Hall's attack was near as good, if of a different more technical style. She has absolutely no intention of fooling you that she is someone else. She is Rebecca Hall, dang it, and she has never looked more lovely in her life. Red hair suits her. Ms Hall prefers to attack her character through words. And, it is absolutely delicious and ravishing to hear her roll and loll her tongue around Stoppard and Ford's exquisite high style language; to see her sulk and play exasperatingly bored is divine and sexy as all get out.
|"Hmmm, how best shall I torture my insubstantial half-man husband today?"|
Parade's End comes supremely highly recommended by me. I think you have to watch it through an HBO platform right now, or procure it through the grey market of the interwebs. It is well worth it, though. Those in love with the English language at its finest; or devotees of the themes of selflessness, sexual repression, unrequited love, honor, and relationships dominated by weakness and resentment should devour with relish the five delicious hours of Parade's End.
P.S. And, then it is fun to watch Cumberbatch and Hall w/ James McAvoy and Dominic Cooper in Starter for 10 after you are done w/ all that heavy lit stuff!