TV REVIEW: Parade's End - Episode Two

The troubled marriage between Sylvia and Christopher continues, despite her feeling completely trapped and he's still wrestling with his feelings for Valentine. Meanwhile, McMaster continues his affair with the bedraggled Mrs Duchemin while war is marching over the horizon.

The second episode of new BB2 adaptation of Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End continues exactly where it left, with everyone married to the wrong person and lusting after someone else. What I enjoyed particularly about this episode was how the historical background of the narrative plays so well into the struggles that each character was experiencing. For Christopher (Benedict Cumberbatch), it's the threat of the First World War as the domino effect of alliances forces each country to join in and he decides to join up, much to the criticism of everyone ever. The most interesting for me though, was the ongoing suffragette movement, not for Valentine (Adelaide Clemens), but for Sylvia (Rebecca Hall).

Last week saw Sylvia agree to return to Christopher and to faithful marriage, promising that she will not continue her extramarital affairs with the warning that she's going to do everything she can to make her husband's life miserable. Unfortunately, the exact opposite happens as Christopher's determined avoidance starts to drive her a little round the bend. Although Sylvia has not yet identified any leanings with the suffragettes, she becomes a physical symbol of what they're fighting for; she's trapped in a marriage that she cannot leave with a husband who does not love her. Rebecca Hall gives a fantastic performance this week, portraying a woman starving for attention. Far from the storm she threw up in the last episode, here Sylvia is calmly, slowly decaying.

Sylvia is one of the few characters though that actually articulates how she feels. For everyone else, there's weighty pauses and furtive glances. If there's one thing film, television and literature that we as a nation excel at, it's conveying the most overwhelming sense of repression. And we had it in spades in this episode from the sexual tension brimming over in the central love triangle to corsets as physical symbol of women's oppression. The latter, or rather the brassiere, was responsible for one of the best moments of the episode in which Rufus Sewell's delightfully mad figure performed the bra trick on poor, flustered Anne Marie Duff. In an hour full of dramatic tension, it was a great moment of humour, perfectly performed by Sewell.

Parade's End really is what I love about good old-fashioned period drama, it's slow-paced, full of scandal and a delightfully dry wit that stops it from being bowed down in all suppressed emotion. Hell, even the music always seemed to be on the point of reaching a loud, dramatic crescendo before simmering down again while Christopher glances morosely at the floor. It's fantastic television and the preview for next week suggests we may yet see some of that repression burst out.

- Becky

Read Becky's review of Parade's End - Episode One here.

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