Set in early twentieth century England, during possibly the greatest period of change in modern times, Parade's End follows young gentleman Christopher Tietjens, struggling to uphold his exacting moral standards against a developing love triangle and a rapidly industrialising world.
The British are exceedingly good at nostalgic representations and adaptations of their own history, looking to the past in remembrance of a better, more noble time, and that melancholic mood is perfectly encapsulated in Parade's End. The beautifully paced narrative and a lingering camera allow the viewer time to think, which rewards an audience engaged with the characters rather than indulging passive viewing.
The central love story hangs on three very different types, each brought to life in a nuanced performance. Sylvia, played by Rebecca Hall, is a tempestuous, adulterous society woman, far brighter than many of the men she toys with for amusement, but for propriety yoked to a husband she cannot at first respect. Valentine, (Adelaide Clemens,) only a few years younger, has the advantage of education rather than breeding, and dares to have ambitions beyond the home and political opinions of her own - yet of the two, she's the naive romantic. Anchoring the story is Christopher, masterfully portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch as the very essence of the stiff upper lip, determined to preserve the parade of nobility despite damaging consequences, even his own impending ruin.
The small scale of their story is set against the sweeping change which characterised the period. A variety of supporting players force choices and loyalties, taking the story by turns to epic heights and farcical lows through the pre war years to the large-scale destruction of The Great War, which serves as the ultimate symbol of the clash between old and new.
As an incredibly well designed, beautifully shot and gorgeously costumed extravaganza, Parade's End deservedly joins the ranks of classic costume dramas, but to my mind it's the haunting themes which have made it such compelling viewing.
Parade's End featured several outstanding comic moments - did you also love the wry scene in which a frustrated Tietjens, attempting to outfit his troops, is given the run-around by the War Office? For a whole patchwork of bureaucratic nonsense, try the abrupt change of pace demanded by the film adaptation of Joseph Heller's WWII masterpiece, Catch 22 - a wholly comedic yet entirely heartbreaking illustration of the futility of war.