Cum­ber­batch bril­liant in Brit pe­riod minis­eries

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - BRAD OSWALD

FEEL­ING down now that Downton’s done? Ad­dled by ab­ject sad­ness af­ter Abbey’s send­off? Well, fear not — just when it seems all sense of tele­vised decorum has been lost, HBO Canada has im­ported a proper Brit pe­riod-piece minis­eries that’s sure to put a spring in your step and some starch back into your tear-soft­ened and still-quiv­er­ing up­per lip.

The five-hour epic Pa­rade’s End, — which pre­mieres Tues­day with a two-hour episode and con­tin­ues Wed­nes­day with an­other two hours be­fore wrap­ping up in Thurs­day’s hour— of­fers an­other well-ap­pointed glimpse at the un­rav­el­ling of Ed­war­dian English so­ci­ety amid the chaos of the First World War and the in­evitable ad­vance­ments of tech­nol­ogy and so­cio-po­lit­i­cal un­rest.

Based on nov­els by Ford Ma­dox Ford (which were adapted for the screen by Tom Stop­pard), this wellmea­sured drama de­liv­ers a de­cid­edly darker vi­sion of Bri­tain’s up­per crust dur­ing the early 20th cen­tury, but Downton devo­tees will likely still find it very much to their TVview­ing tastes.

In ad­di­tion to its time-pe­riod sim­i­lar­i­ties to Abbey, Pa­rade’s End has an­other PBS con­nec­tion — its star­ring role is played by Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch, who has been thrilling U.S. pub­lic tele­vi­sion fans of late with his rous­ing mod­ern-day por­trayal of Sher­lock Holmes.

In Pa­rade’s End, Cum­ber­batch is any­thing but an ac­tion-minded hero — rather, he’s aris­to­cratic brooder Christo­pher Tietjens, a priv­i­leged son who might just be, at the same time, the smartest and sad­dest man in all of Eng­land.

He’s a 20th-cen­tury man cling­ing to 18th-cen­tury val­ues and prin­ci­ples, trapped in a love­less mar­riage to a schem­ing wife, Sylvia (Re­becca Hall), whom he felt com­pelled to wed af­ter their ill-ad­vised dal­liance aboard a train was fol­lowed by her an­nounce­ment that she was with child (though later ev­i­dence strongly sug­gests that Tietjens is not the fa­ther).

She brings two things to the re­la­tion­ship: an in­cli­na­tion to be se­ri­ally un­faith­ful and a per­son­al­ity so toxic and cruel that it’s hard to imag­ine any­one could put up with it. But put up with it he will, with stiff-lipped re­solve, be­cause it’s the proper thing to do in his an­ti­quated ver­sion of Bri­tish gen­tle­manly duty.

Pro­fes­sion­ally, he toils in a government statis­tics de­part­ment, where he an­noys his co-work­ers and su­pe­ri­ors by al­ways be­ing right. When the se­ries opens, it’s 1912 and Tietjens de­clares that the Ger­mans are spoil­ing for a war in Europe and pre­dicts they’ll start one within two years. Star­ring Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Tues­day-Thurs­day HBO Canada

out of five

His col­leagues jeer. By the end of 1914, Bri­tish sol­diers are neck-deep in the muddy trenches of France.

The only time Tietjens’ aris­to­cratic re­solve is shaken is when he en­coun­ters Valen­tine Wannop (Ade­laide Cle­mens), a head­strong young suf­fragette whose val­ues he fears but whose ob­vi­ous fem­i­nine charms he (al­most) can­not re­sist. There’s an in­stant con­nec­tion be­tween the two, but the English­man’s sense of pro­pri­ety pre­vents them from act­ing on it.

When war is de­clared, as he pre­dicted it would be, Tietjens feels com­pelled to leave his desk job and join the fight. What he en­coun­ters on the front lines shakes him to the core and even­tu­ally af­fects all who come in con­tact with him.

Pa­rade’s End is a slow-mov­ing, metic­u­lous kind of drama that some Downton fans might find a bit dense com­pared to their pre­ferred PBS con­fec­tion, but those who stick with it will be am­ply re­warded. Cum­ber­batch is bril­liantly re­strained in the lead role; his por­trayal of the emo­tion­ally trapped Tietjens is so ef­fec­tive that it nearly makes one sym­pa­thetic to Sylvia’s con­tin­ual cruel ef­forts to elicit a re­ac­tion — any re­ac­tion — from her too-per­fect hus­band.

He’s a man liv­ing in the wrong time. Pa­rade’s End is a se­ries whose ar­rival time is pretty much ex­actly right.


Cum­ber­batch is re­strained in the lead role.

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