Quite what the American HBO audience will make of Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End is hard to know. American connections are few and far between; although Adelaide Clemens who plays suffragette Valentine Wannop was in deepest Louisiana filming a horror flick when the script arrived. However, she is Australian, so that doesn’t really count. In fact there is a Deep South connection, but more on that later.
The hero Christopher Tietjens, who is played by the very English Benedict Cumberbatch, espouses a set of values that was old fashioned a 100 years ago. And his fearsome unbelieveably vindictive wife Sylvia would have been just that — unbelievable — were it not for Rebecca Hall’s deftly distracting performance. That and the fact playwright Tom Stoppard manages to subtly soften some of her harder edges.
Plot lines don’t follow the conventional trajectory, motives are blurred, and resolutions don’t always resolve. This is true to the books, although Stoppard will occasionally drop in a scene that succinctly ties up a lot of loose ends before the characters are pointed in new directions and move on. These scenes are not in the books, but must have been judged necessary for the tv viewer.
Some of Stoppard’s good work is undermined by the ending (plot-spoiler reassurance: no revelations on the way). Trilogies end after book 3 (the original BBC adaptation half a century ago was a 3-parter). Tetralogies end after book 4 (many critics believe book 4 is an integral part of Parade’s End). The BBC, 2012 version, ends around book 3.1. So a bit of the last book (titled Last Post in the UK) makes it, most doesn’t.
But in doing this, Stoppard has conjured an ending that doesn’t really exist in the original books. Perhaps this is inevitable when trying to affix an ending to Ford’s shifting perspectives; the very act of pulling threads together undermines the author’s original intentions. This indeed was the charge Graham Greene levelled at Last Post – it cleared up ‘valuable ambiguities’, and so he ditched it from his edition of Parade’s End. But for readers/viewers wanting to know ‘what happened next’ Last Post still has a role to play.
But any US viewers seeking a greater clarity of ending, and some American connection, should be pointed in the direction of the first BBC series (1964). Not only was it a straight forward 3-parter in black and white, but the role of the scarlet woman – Sylvia Tietjens- was played by an American, Jeanne Moody. Better known across the Atlantic as Miss Alabama 1951.