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Old 25th Aug 2012, 23:40   #1
Colyngbourne
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Default Parade's End

Mixed reviews from critics and public, it seems (very positive and favourable from the newspapers, bemusement and disadvantageous comparisons with Downton Abbey from some general viewers). Whilst it didn't deliver everything that I hoped of it, Episode One grasped some of the main essentials about the characters and the feel of the book: Sylvia's bored torment of her husband, the perception of Tietjens as an intelligent man born in the wrong century, and the beginnings of the slanders that will dog him through the next few years: Parade's End deals with emotional and mental torment on an epic scale, forged in the crucible of a disastrous marriage (entrapment by Sylvia to cover her likely pregnancy from a bounder called Drake) and in the approaching crucible of the War. Rebecca Hall's Sylvia really exudes a determined hysteria and potency of character, and Benedict Cumberbatch is weighty enough as Christopher (though it would be better if he were heavier-set). Adelaide Clemens as Valentine is femur and lithe and determined in as wholesome a way as Sylvia is not - it was lovely to hear her calling Tietjens "my dear" for all their brief acquaintance. Understandably, for the new viewers' benefit, the attraction between Christopher and Valentine is displayed far more overtly than it is in the books, where Valentine barely touches his hand more than once and scarcely has more than a couple of conversations with him over the course of three novels.

It was a shame that there wasn't time to really show the social anguish and horrors of that breakfast at the Duchemins (though Rufus Sewell really delivered a perfectly salacious sexually obsessed Reverend), nor the deep revealing of like minds (Latin scholars and naturalists both) that occurs when Tietjens is driving Valentine through the misty night. There might be some disagreement over the golfing scene where suffragettes invade the links to the tune of distinctly comic background music: in the book there is some light relief here but also serious danger - two golfers assault Gertie and Valentine for their invasion and the consequences could be very serious for the women: not quite the jape it appears on screen.

Parade's End is so complex a novel that it is bound to be misunderstood, and its non-linear structure is difficult to shape into comprehendable order. And over-spoiled as we are and have been by Edwardian drama of various kinds (Downton, Titanic, Birdsong) I suspect the natural audience for this drama will find it mildly ridiculous that Tietjens won't divorce his wife, or have an affair with Valentine; or that he was duped into marriage in the first place, and maybe deserves everything that comes to him. It is the old sensibility meeting the new and finding a way through. And so if anything, the dramatisation, whilst not capturing the real essence of the books, simply makes me love the whole thing more.

Anyone who also watched the short documentary on Ford and Parade's End that followed Episode One will have had a treat.
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Old 26th Aug 2012, 15:19   #2
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Default Re: Parade's End

I don't wish this point to seem trivial, but I think the costume and period-ness is really beautifully done, to such an extent I thought Rebecca Hall's Sylvia was played by an actress I was unfamiliar with, all through the episode; and didn't recognise Anne-Marie Duff until after the credits rolled. Their appearances were so perfect, their perfect performances making them wholly into the characters they inhabited.

I think the Cumberbatch's performance gave enough clues for the audience to sympathise with his wish not to divorce Sylvia, and not just because he 'stands for monogamy' - I forget the precise words he used early on, but something to the effect that there was something glorious in her. And he played the attachment to the boy so beautifully that it brought a lump to this viewer's throat. I did have the impression that Tietjens genuinely feels the 'rightness' of his decision to remain married - his reactions, when he was repeatedly asked by different characters if he would obtain a divorce, were convincing.

I think a little more time in setting up the breakfast at the Duchemins (which was for me the only less-than-perfect aspect) would have helped to better gauge the social subtleties of the situation. This of course is a symptom that most adaptations will always suffer from - the necessary compression into an episode, which made this scene seem almost comic relief.

I'm sorry now that I didn't watch the documentary. I'm generally a little wary of these things lest they talk too much about the techniques e.g. that wonderful scene of the horse & trap in the mist and render it, ironically, too real and prosaic for me to 'believe' it any longer.

(By the way, I think the Cumberbatch does 'the natural audience' a disservice when he dismisses Downton Abbey as 'fucking atrocious' - I don't think the majority of viewers would view DA in the same way as a 'serious' period drama such as Parade's End, or even something like Brideshead Revisited. It's more like soap opera with an element of comedy drama.)

A final note - I know these are Ford's scenes and characters, but I think Tom Stoppard deserves praise in the adaptation of them. (Even if I did have a little puerile snigger as scenes of sex were juxtaposed with train pistons moving at speed.) I am supposing that the words are more or less purely Ford's, but it must take something akin to genius to make them come alive so.
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Old 26th Aug 2012, 16:26   #3
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Default Re: Parade's End

The documentary was enlightening only as to the nature of the characters and various academic and professional opinions of the book (and the author): none of those "behind the scenes" reveals, at least.

Yes, the breakfast scene was almost comic, with not quite enough of the exquisite agonies that Edith Ethel Duchemin suffers, not only from her husband's scatalogical expressiveness, but also from the pity and fore-knowledge that she presumes in Christopher, when he leans sympathetically over to let her know that MacMaster is quite up to dealing with any unpleasantness. His knowledge of her plight is an additional torment to her.
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Old 27th Aug 2012, 21:08   #4
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Default Re: Parade's End

A little more time is exactly what's needed for pretty much every aspect, I think. I'm just over half-way through the book now (I've got an all-volumes-in-one edition) and the first episode felt very very rushed. I'm worried it seems to be right on my heels already, and although the themes and people and important bits all seem to be represented, I'm not convinced yet that the book I've well and truly fallen in love with is on show in the way I hoped it would be. Perhaps if even just one more episode had been allowed there would be more room for the characters, the story, the viewer to breathe and get to know one another better. (Mr Lucoid claims to have found it a bit confusing, but then he did spend the first 15 minutes messing around with the iPad so I'm not sure that's really the production's fault.) I've very much been enjoying the dialogue, though, and the increased tension between Christopher and Valentine, too. Oh, and the superb portrayal of Sylvia, which was the real highlight of the first episode for me.
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Old 6th Sep 2012, 17:22   #5
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Default Re: Parade's End

I've enjoyed it - though missed the documentary afterwards as I recorded it after seeing the RT review for episode 2 and panicking that I'd missed Ep. 1! Been an age since I read the book but the show did remind me of it very clearly - performers and Stoppard's adaptation. Sylvia is perfectly awful - just righ, and I think Cumberbatch too, somehow missed or forgotten that he should perhaps have been heavier set as per Col's comment. I think I always associated his reserve and character with a slim individual - who knows why! Loved the scene in the mist on the horse, and indeed Benedict's affinity with horses in general.
Still have to watch the rest some time, not Mr Digger's thing at all so need to sneak it in at some point of my own - whenever that might turn up!

hello again all by the way...
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Old 7th Sep 2012, 9:09   #6
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Default Re: Parade's End

*waves and grins* Hello Digger! Great to see you!
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Old 8th Sep 2012, 9:35   #7
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Default Re: Parade's End

Hey Digger!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Digger View Post
I've enjoyed it - though missed the documentary afterwards as I recorded it after seeing the RT review for episode 2 and panicking that I'd missed Ep. 1!
I missed the documentary deliberately - I don't want anything too much to influence my own interpretation/enjoyment of either the book or the programme, so I've recorded it to watch later. Haven't watched last night's episode yet, either, actually, as I was a bit busy getting drunk (Mr Lucoid's birthday). I don't think booze-head and Parade's End would mix well.
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Old 8th Sep 2012, 11:08   #8
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Default Re: Parade's End

I think Tom Stoppard has seriously skewed the character of Sylvia, imo, by playing her so intimate and yearning-loving towards Christopher (and repeatedly showing her at prayer, though we are left to interpret her practice vs her behaviour). She appears more hard done to and "unforgiven" because Christopher won't respond to her in exactly the way she desires him to. Last night's episode in particular portrayed little of the cold savagery she exhibits continually in the book as she contrives to "pull the strings of shower-baths" as it is put in the book, and make life troublesome and unmanageable for Tietjens. Nor was it clear how shockingly Edith MacMaster turns on Valentine for a mulriplicity of reasons.

I did really love Rupert Everett as Mark: I have no idea how they will manage his role in the last section of the drama but I hope it's not sidelined in favour of other's POV.
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Old 17th Sep 2012, 9:29   #9
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Default Re: Parade's End

Yes, though she's still my favourite, this TV Sylvia is much too prone to tears, and to sorrowful faces when she knows no-one's watching. As an example, the 'keep off the grass' phone call was played with less of a sense of cool possessiveness and lack of humanity than I thought Ford Madox Ford intended, though I suppose we do have to consider that the following description is Valentine's interpretation, especially considering she was expecting to speak to Christopher:

Quote:
There was about the voice no human quality; it was if from an immense darkness the immense machine had spoken words that dealt blows.
I wonder if perhaps Tom Stoppard has been too keen to show the story from every side, when in the book so much is left to guesswork or piecing bits together through snippets of information dropped here and there.
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Old 17th Sep 2012, 10:18   #10
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Default Re: Parade's End

I suspect Tom Stoppard was aiming for one thing (probably slightly more lenient on Sylvia) but I read this last weekend i nthe Guardian concerning the director of Parade's End, Susanna White:

Quote:
White also believes that gender counts when it comes to on-screen interpretation: she introduced sympathetic overtones to the main female characters in Parade's End, and adjusted Sir Tom Stoppard's script to include a suffragette protest in the first episode.

Sylvia, the wife of uptight CT, who is played by Rebecca Hall, was once described by Graham Greene as "surely the most possessed evil character in the modern novel....a witchwife". But she is portrayed as White as a trapped, vulnerable woman.

"She could have been a harridan figure. I made her multi-layered, a victim of circumstances. It's a big change from the book."
That "big change" makes Sylvia very much into a wronged woman - frightened by circumstance into trapping CT into marriage, rebelliously trying to provoke him in the early years of marriage by a single affair, followed by years of wounded desperation to be loved by her cold, unresponsive husband. It makes Christopher into an unforgiving cold-hearted wretch of a man, and more stupidly naive and ungentlemanly for his continued disdain of her. I am re-reading the books in parallel with the episodes and found last Friday's the most altered in terms of its tone and sympathies to Sylvia. I think the background music has something to answer for, with light tinkling amusement signifying some of her "shower-bath" ploys to disarm Christopher, whereas although they sound silly in the book - a bounced cheque due to Sylvia's deliberate toying with their bank account, Sylvia's accusation that C 'stole' bedsheets from their house to take to France with him - these things would have profound outcomes in reality: an officer whose cheque bounces will still today lose their commission.
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