DOWNTON’S DARK NEW RIVAL
It’s Downton with a darker side, writes Robert Rorke of The New York Post
I F you think war is hell, try the battlefield of marriage. That’s the dynamic behind the HBO miniseries
Period Edwardian England could not be more popular, as evidenced by Downton Abbey. Parade Downton
The five-hour has everything fans love about as observations about manners and morals play out against the backdrop of history. And let’s not forget the costumes. The Tom Stoppard adaptation of the Ford Madox Ford novel has a darker tone than the Julian Fellowes soap and adds another jewel to the acting crown of Benedict Cumberbatch, who played a gay spy in before his role in
offers Cumberbatch his most complex role to date as Christopher Tietjens, an antique aristocrat and decent chap who would rather be mocked, humiliated and made a figure of scandal than appear disloyal. British actress Rebecca Hall (
is delectably repellent as Christopher’s wife, Sylvia, whose condescension knows no limits. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
His only hope for happiness is fetching suffragette Valentine Wannop, a well-meaning idealist whose name alone has enough meaning to set off literary smoke alarms.
She is played by Australian Adelaide Clemens ( The Great Gatsby), who was so taken with Stoppard’s script she flew herself to London to audition and showed up in an Edwardian costume.
The story kicks off with Christopher’s marriage to social-climbing Sylvia, though she is pregnant with another man’s baby. Despite an extramarital liaison she conducts in France, Christopher resolves to remain faithful.
A chance encounter with Valentine promises a more sincere connection but Christopher doesn’t act on it.
‘‘It’s a love triangle,’’ says director Susanna White ( Generation Kill).
‘‘What Tom did made was to make Sylvia a lot more empathetic than she is in the novel. She’s so much a prisoner of her time. Divorce is unthinkable.
‘‘Because of his code of honour Christopher’s never going to lie to her. He falls in love with Valentine because she’s his intellectual equal.’’
Christopher goes to war to escape his marriage. Valentine waits – and waits.
‘‘She’s naive. I think she’s a virgin . . . a boyfriend is the last thing on her mind,’’ says Clemens.
‘‘She’s kind of all about the cause. That’s why I think it’s really beautiful about Christopher and Valentine finding each other.
‘‘There’s no way Christopher wants another relationship. Valentine is very confused by it all. I think she sees him as a companion. Throughout the course of the war she’s having a sexual awakening . . . war cheapened life.’’
The war as an agent of change strips away the trappings of Edwardian society. The battlefield gives Christopher his courage.
The cast was full of surprises, particularly Rupert Everett, who plays Christopher’s older brother, Mark, Stoppard says.
‘‘I didn’t actually ask him to wear George Bernard Shaw’s beard, but there he was.’’
Wednesdays, 8.30pm, Nine, NBN
Parade’s End stars Rebecca Hall and Benedict Cumberbatch.