Benedict Cumberbatch gives a tour de force rendering of Christopher "Chrissie" Tietjens, the Edwardian Yorkshire gentleman (who's really a soft-hearted man in a world that expects him to be "tough") caught up in the forces of WWI and modernism. Ford Madox's Ford's (nee Hueffer) misogyny is on display here, as it was in the novel. In his autobiography Ford simply "erased" the women he was involved with--the mistresses (painter Stella Bowen, novelist Violet Hunt--keeping in his wife Elsie Martingale, who refused him a divorce). In fiction, he sets the tone for what Hemingway would firmly echo in The Sun Also Rises with Brett--the "New Woman" turned into to 1920s ball-busting whore.
"But, positively, she [Valentine] and Sylvia were the only two human beings whom he [Tietjens] had met for years whom he could respect: the one for sheer efficiency in killing; the other for having the constructive desire and knowing how to set about it. Kill or cure! The two functions of man. If you wanted something killed you’d go to Sylvia Tietjens in the sure faith that she would kill it: emotion, hope, ideal; kill it quick and sure. If you wanted something kept alive you’d go to Valentine: she’d find something to do for it."--Parade's End
You get the feeling Sylvia should have picked up a rifle and been in the trenches. Her hair (red), is of course described as the color of blood; Rebecca Hall plays her beautifully cruel. Even her pale, freckled skin reminds one of death. She basically behaves like most men would (taking lovers and not being involved in child-rearing)--but for a woman it makes her into some kind of reptile: "Oh, Christopher! If you had once in our lives said to me "You whore!" "You bitch!" or about the child or Perowne, you might have done something to bring us together. And I dare say, if you're shot... Christ... between the saddle and the ground, you'll say you never did a dishonourable action. In the name of the Almighty, how can any woman live beside you?"
Christopher Tietjens: "But I never disapproved of your actions."
How does one even begin to understand lines like these in 2017?
The luminous Adelaide Clemens as Valentine gives us a much-more well-rounded innocent who would like to be more worldly suffragette.
One of Sylvia's better moments as she both loathes and is in awe of her husband:
"Higher than the beasts, lower than the angels, stuck in our idiot Eden". Most of the time, Sylvia is the man-eating beast.
It's amazing how the director, Susanna White, pulls humanity out of Madox Ford's stilted novel. That's part of Tom Stoppard's screenplay, indeed. Ford and D.H. Lawrence look so dated, now, but they were avant-garde at the time.
You will love the period authenticity--the grayness of Yorkshire, the absurdity of logistics in the war, London, trains, the wardrobe. Ultimately, it's quite morose and nihilistic, as are Ford's other works. His forte is embodied in The Good Soldier and this one. 100 years after 1917, this will one remind you of the awfulness of that Great War so many have forgotten.
This is a series you might find difficult to get out of your head.