TV REVIEW: Parade's End - Episode Four

The penultimate episode of the BBC adaptation of Parade's End finds Christopher (Benedict Cumberbatch) back on the front, leaving behind an anxious Valentine (Adelaide Clemens) whilst Sylvia (Rebecca Hall) makes her own plan to follow her husband to France.


Christopher has been helped to a safer position in the army training other soldiers thanks to brother Mark (Rupert Everett) and, despite General Campion (Roger Allam) finding him to be a nuisance, is doing rather well at it. Meanwhile back in London, Valentine anxiously awaits news of her would-be beau whilst continuing her job as a gym mistress. Elsewhere, Sylvia decides that now is absolutely the best time to go and visit Christopher in France and arrives in Rouen before anyone has the chance to do anything about it. There, she and Christopher attempt some sort of reconciliation but are interrupted before anything can truly be done.

After last week's slight dip, Parade's End was back on form in its fourth episode, providing more comedy and tragedy than you could shake a bayonet at. While the series has never been particularly sombre or po-faced, laugh-out-loud moments weren't exactly forthcoming outside of Rufus Sewell's appearances. In this episode however, the comedy is extremely well-pitched, though often erring on the side of black, and each time comes layered with a sense of poignancy that further highlights the drama of the characters' situations. In particular, the scene between Christopher and Patrick Kennedy's equally strung out McKechnie trying to outdo each other intellectually through sonnets and Latin was both very funny and deeply sad.

Another standout scene was the meeting between Christopher and Sylvia in the hotel, their first face-to-face conversation in a considerably long time. To use a technical term, both actors knocked it out of the park with Hall's monologue in particular adding a deep sadness to the pair's unsuccessful marriage. Just as it seems the pair are reconciling (with a spectacular grab-and-kiss move from Cumberbatch that no doubt resulted in a sudden outbreak of swooning), the poignant scene was replaced by a farcical confrontation between Christopher and Sylvia's former squeeze, Potty Perowne (Tom Mison) and a drunken superior officer. Had it not been handled with such skill, the transition from tragedy to farce could have been jarring and distracting, but fortunately it only enhanced what the previous scene had been demonstrating; Sylvia and Christopher just aren't meant to be together.

The focus on the central marriage means that some of the characters are found wanting in the wider episode arc. Most notable is Valentine, Christopher's not-yet mistress, who continues the pining and erstwhile glancing out of windows to fill the quota for this week's episode. I don't think it's necessarily Clemens' fault; she's not given much to work with narrative wise, other than thinking longingly about Christopher. As I've not read the books, I'm unaware of whether the much-touted union between Valentine and Christopher will ever actually happen, but Clemens' fading performance in contrast with Hall's towering screen presence is making me think I'd actually like Sylvia to get her man.

This week's episode is, to my mind, the best so far in a series that has been mostly consistent in its high standard. Blending comedy with drama is not always an easy balance to strike but this episode manages it well and is all the better for it. It's also easily the most action-packed instalment so far with more focus on Christopher's life in the army and his unfortunate scuffle with Potty.

And please, will someone just give Rebecca Hall an award already?

- Becky

You can read Becky's review of Parade's End - Episode Three here.

Follow Becky on Twitter @beckygracelea
Or follow her blog at beckygracelea.wordpress.com

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