Parade’s End episode 2 review: Benedict Cumberbatch continues to impress with Freddie Fox in period drama as wartime approaches
In my review of the first episode of Parade’s End I made reference to the fact that there were a few comparisons to be made between it and Downton Abbey, a fact I’m not going to harp on about this week only to say that like the ITV1 show this BBC2 costume drama also sees the narrative skip forward in time quite drastically.
The final scene last week between Benedict Cumberbatch’s Christopher and Adelaide Clemens’ Valentine saw the couple almost kiss, however at the start of this week almost a year has passed since this moment, and Christopher has now reunited with his wife Sylvia following the death of his mother. Of course it’s not long before Sylvia goes back to her old ways complaining that there are no ashtrays in her new house and that she is now in hell, constantly bored once again, however she now seems determined to win back the love of her husband who has taken her back into his home but not into his bed.
Though she still goes out partying on New Year’s Eve while Christopher has a rather subdued night at home it is clear that she has fallen back in love with him, or as her friend says she’s ‘soppy’ about him. There is a lovely moment between the pair where she presents him with a Christmas present and he agrees that they should put in the breakfast room where they can both see it but this momentary gesture of reconciliation doesn’t last very long.
Meanwhile Valentine is on the outside looking in for most of the episode as we see her continue to pursue her suffragette career, however a scene in an art gallery suggests that she may not want to go as far as some of the other girls when it comes to trying to get votes for women. The first scene that she and Christopher both appear in is at a cricket match, where there eyes are drawn to each other and they don’t speak but obviously the unspoken love exists between them.
It is in this scene where we are also introduced to Valentine’s brother Edward, played by a delightfully foppish Freddie Fox, a scholar who seems to detest everything sporty and wishes that he was a lecture rather than a match. As we skip forward in time once again we find ourselves in 1914 so it’s only a matter of time before war breaks out and indeed Christopher puts himself forward as a soldier despite the majority of the other characters, including Roger Allam’s forthright general, telling him he’d better use in England as he’s a thinker rather than a fighter. Christopher’s decision dominates the final ten minutes of the piece and also allows he and Valentine to have a very intense conversation where the two almost kiss once again however due to his focus on monogamy he declines her once more with her leaving him to talk to himself. The final scene sees Christopher in the trenches which I’m guess sets up for a lot of war-based scenes in the last three episodes.
In terms of subplots the only one of note is the relationship between the constantly on edge vicar’s wife Edith Duchemin and Christopher’s Scottish colleague McMaster, played respectively by Anne-Marie Duff and Stephen Graham. It seems that Edith has grown fond of McMaster anticipating his visits as a way to escape her dull life from the clinically mad reverend who is eventually committed to an asylum towards the end of the episode. Rufus Sewell does get his chance to once again be a scene-stealer as this certifiable mad man who thinks brassieres are the work of the devil and who is convinced that the other ministers who visit him are possessed by Beelzebub. Eventually McMaster and Edith escape for a romantic weekend in Scotland where they proceed to have a bit of adult time together which results in a baby that she wants to get rid of enlisting Valentine’s hope only to find out that the young girl isn’t as worldly as she first appears.
Once again Parade’s End continues to impress with its slick design, period detail and contrasting cinematography which this time was able to capture a number of different scenes including a spiffing country cricket match, a rather intense hunt and the aforementioned scenes of Christopher in the trenches. The costume design once again continues to be splendid with Sylvia’s outfit to Christopher’s mother’s funeral being striking but mainly for all the wrong reasons and some of the mourners complain that she is trying to upstage the entire ceremony. The cast continues to impress with Rebecca Hall once again being the stand-out as she manages to transform the ghastly Sylvia into someone who genuinely wants to change in order to win back her husband’s affections. Cumberbatch’s general seriousness dominates his performance however he also drops his guard from time to time usually when Valentine is around to challenge his views and basically make him fall in love with her. Talking up Valentine this week writer Tom Stoppard fleshed out the character more allowing Adelaide Clemens more time to portray a character who is both very principled but at the same time isn’t as worldly-wise as she thinks she is. We are also allowed to see the Wannop family situation a little more with Miranda Richardson playing it over-the-top as a woman who doesn’t seem to like either of her children especially her son who she belittles for not wanting to fight in the war due to him being a pacifist.
I’m glad that Parade’s End didn’t flag after an impressive debut and this one built on the foundations that last week’s instalment set up namely establishing a fully-fledged love triangle between Sylvia, Christopher and Valentine as well as presenting them all as fully-rounded characters who have both strong personalities but are also somewhat flawed. We also got to see a little more from McMaster and Edith this week, which was another story that had just started to blossom last week, with these two fragile characters coming together only for her to suffer what she considers to be a large misfortune. Though it’s not exactly a five star affair I really enjoy Parade’s End as it is well-written, well-acted and looks fantastic even though it’s a little hard to know exactly what year the characters are actually in.
Did you enjoy this second episode of Parade’s End? What did you think to the performances? Leave Your Comments Below.