This HBO/BBC miniseries reflects the world of Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy of the same name. The story is bookended by the Great War, focusing on the lives of an aristocrat, his wife, and the young suffragette he has fallen in love with. Parade’s End is explicitly informed by the war, but it is really a story about unrequited love, the sense of duty, and the changing world of English society in the early 1900s.
Benedict Cumberbatch seems to play only geniuses and Parade’s End is no exception. In it he is the aristocrat Christopher Tietjens. In a fit of uncharacteristic passion, he makes love to a woman on a train and out of a sense of duty, marries her. Whether the child is his is unknown.
His wife is unfaithful in their early marriage, running off to Europe with one lover, but suddenly deciding to return to her husband and remain chaste. Her mission in life seems to be to hate him and make him miserable though she also seems to want him to want her.
Christopher is a thorough and thorough gentleman from the Edwardian era with all that entails. Of course, he would take his wife back. Divorce is not an option. Of course, he would not have an affair with a woman he met by chance and numerous times since. That is, until he faces death in the trenches of WWI and decides he is a fool to continue to stick by his outdated principles.
A truly standup guy, one of the few upper class depicted who enlisted in WWI, he and his character is attacked at every turn. Rumors fly that he shares a mistress with a friend and that he had a child with a different woman. The former and wannabe lovers of his wife seek to destroy him, labeling him a French spy (and unfit for any job) and reject any deposit to his bank account (causing him to be in default). His father believes these lives, shuns Christopher, and then commits suicide.
He is undermined at every time, until events conspire to force his godfather—a general—to send him to the trenches to co-command a battalion that ends up loving him.
Sylvia, his diabolical wife, seduces him after five years of remaining a chaste wife. And then she proceeds to go back to her previous ways, sleeping with the man whom she was having an affair with when she got married, the man who is probably the father of her child so many years ago.
The war and Sylvia’s ways finally change Christopher. After she chops down the old tree at the family estate that has had such meaning for generations, he says good-bye. Not to divorce her but to leave her for the woman he loves. Whether true or not, Sylvia takes one last stab at keeping him in misery and away from Valentine, the woman he loves.
Parade’s End is a well-made and well-acted miniseries. It is a study in principles, the passing of an era, and the ideas of what are expected and what makes one happy. After years of misery but doing what was expected of him from a bygone era, Christopher finally renounced the past and opens the door to his happiness.