Parade’s End Episode Four: Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall get steamy in France in this penultimate instalment
In my review of last week’s Parade’s End I criticised screenwriter Tom Stoppard for not adding more substance into his script for what I considered to be a slightly dull episode when compared to the two that had come before. Looking at the comments that were left under the review some of you enjoyed his adaptation others felt it should be tighter but this week I feel that he’s got the balance back and juggles all the elements of the story well giving equal time to the stories of the First World War and of the continuing love triangle which got slightly complicated here as Sylvia arrived in Rouen to meet up with her husband.
The majority of this week’s episode is set in the World War I battlefields of France though Christopher and company are a long way from the action as he has ended up in the Infantry Based Depot meaning that the majority of his tasks involve ordering fire extinguishers or inspecting toothbrushes. As we saw last week Christopher’s brother Mark attempted to get him a job in the transport division, preferably something to do with horses, however Roger Allam’s General Campion knows that he’s too good a man to waste with these matters and instead has him training a group of men for battle. As we are now in 1917 we get the impression that the war effort has few fresh men as Christopher’s group contains mainly Canadian conscripts and he later welcomes in an elderly gent who signed up to join the army only a couple of weeks previously. Christopher seems to enjoy his work however his world his about to turn around, as it always does, when his wife Sylvia arrives in Rouen despite all of the best efforts of Campion to eep her away claiming that he doesn’t want any ‘skirts’ around him while he’s trying to work.
From the moment she gets off the train Sylvia causes trouble as she bumps into her old lover Potty Perrowne, who himself is now a military man, and who also still has feelings for her even though she left him five years ago when he threatened her at gunpoint. As you would expect she causes a stir as soon as she enters the camp winding up Campion and infuriating Christopher who would much rather be busy with paper work or spending time with the woman who he really wants to be with in Valentine Wannop. Stoppard does a brilliant job in this episode of creating the side of Sylvia that we’ve known over the past month before changing her into a brilliantly vulnerable figure when her husband comes up to her hotel room and she confesses she’s not been with a man in five years, since her affair with Potty, as she wanted to win back his affections. Though for weeks we’ve been thinking that Christopher and Valentine would eventually hook up this week it looked more likely that he’d get back with his wife however this reunion is once again spoilt by interference from Potty who ends up reporting Christopher for not being in his room. This eventually leads Campion to redeploy Christopher to a new role as second in command with the 6th battalion a role that the general claims will simply involve sitting in an armchair however I don’t suspect this will be the case at all.
As this episode felt more focused this week there was little in the way of the non-military supporting cast with no word from the MacMaster family this week while Miranda Richardson and Rupert Everett only featured briefly. Even Adelaide Clemens only got a couple of scenes as Valentine whose new role seems to be constantly worrying about Christopher not knowing that he’s thinking of reconciling with his wife. Valentine’s new role as a games mistress sees her being asked by the girls if she has a chap in the war a question she can’t answer as none of us are actually sure what the relationship between her and Christopher currently is.
In addition to tighter plotting this episode also contained plenty of brilliant set pieces in fact I thought the first scene, a lavish dinner party, was great as it saw the upper class English toffs still enjoying the finer things in life during war time. The scene saw everyone in their finery discussing military tactics until Sylvia suggests not talking about the war for five minutes but right after she says this bombs hit and the group have to run for cover. The war camp is brilliantly designed with the uniformly placed huts in a straight line makes the base look realistic and also makes for a great backdrop for a scene in which bombs start to fall on Christopher’s men. Rebecca Hall is once again the star of the show as Sylvia is the constant highlight of the show blustering her way through high society before revealing to her husband the sacrifices she has made in order to win him back. Benedict Cumberbatch also plays a harder Christopher and one who know wants to give into his temptations running to a car which he believes Valentine is in only to discover Sylvia instead. Cumberbatch also displays a more passionate side to this practical man as he succumbs to his wife’s pleas for intimacy after he finds out about how long she’s been waiting for him. Roger Allam is also superb as the blustering general and gets all the best lines in this episode as he constantly argues with everyone around him.
There’s no denying that this episode of Parade’s End is a step up on last week’s instalment as the scripts seem a lot tighter and the actors are excellent while in addition the move to France makes the series seem a little more fresh. Despite this I didn’t feel as involved as I did in the first two episodes possibly because this was setting-up for next week’s finale where I’m sure we’ll see if Christopher ends up with either Sylvia and Valentine as well as what becomes of him during his time on the Front Line and I for one will be watching.
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