TV REVIEW: Parade's End - Episode Three

Vicious rumours fly around London about Christopher Tietjens, returning wounded from the front, and his relationships with Valentine and Mrs Duchemin leading to a confrontation with Sylvia and his family. Sylvia meanwhile amuses herself with another admirer while McMaster ascends through the ranks of society whilst wrestling with his conscience.

Over the past couple of weeks, Parade's End was starting to become a nice little comfort blanket of a Friday evening, a gentle drama that takes in all the usual scandals, longing glances and the kind of performances that we just love to see in our BBC productions. This week, the burgeoning sense of comfort was offset slightly by the darker turn of events in the third episode, as the First World War is well and truly underway and the effects are felt both at the front and at home.

Christopher is wounded, harming his previously impressive mental faculties; watching a man who prides himself on his memory and knowledge struggle to remember someone's surname was unsettling and all credit to Benedict Cumberbatch for giving a truly moving performance. Elsewhere saw the sad demise of Rufus Sewell's Reverend Duchemin (a loss for comedy and Satan-spotting) and the accidental death of Christopher's father in an unfortunate shotgun/hedge incident.

It was this latter tragedy that gave us arguably one of the best scenes of the series so far between Cumberbatch's Christopher and his brother Mark, played by Rupert Everett. The chemistry between the two actors was excellent and it allowed for a greater understanding of Christopher's character, particularly in his fight for approval in both society and with his family. Tying into the rumours flying around about his alleged infidelity, you could see how Christopher has constantly striving for approval only to fall short and decide that if everyone thinks he's a philanderer, then he is going to prove them right by propositioning Valentine.

Adelaide Clemens has put in two good performances over the two previous episodes but here, I felt she had become severely underwritten. Gone was the feistiness and rebellious nature that had made her so compelling and in its place was a simpering little girl with nothing but eyes for Christopher. To be fair this had started in the last episode, but it became the overriding relationship dynamic here; instead of having sparky exchanges, conversations between the pair became all about her lifting his confidence. It is a shame, because previously, Valentine was a interesting character but now she seems to have been reduced to a stereotype, the virgin to Sylvia's whore.

Speaking of Mrs Tietjens, I can't heap enough praise on the trio of Rebecca Hall, Tom Stoppard and Susanna White for creating such a layered character for Sylvia, who in other hands could have easily become just another evil woman caricature. According to the little research I've done, the novel's version of Sylvia is just that, a harridan determined to ruin Christopher's happiness. The television series on the other hand, has created a woman desperately trying to get her husband back, just not being very good at doing it the nice way. Rebecca Hall's performance is the standout of the series so far and is fast becoming the main reason for sticking with the series (sorry Benedict).

The mid-point of the series sees a slight dip in quality from the previous two episodes, but there is still plenty to admire, particularly in the performances of the central duo of Cumberbatch and Hall (sounds like a specialist law firm). Next week promises more thwarting of the relationship between Valentine and Christopher as he returns to the front and Syliva makes a move.

- Becky

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

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