There’s nothing better in a miniseries like Parade’s End than a satisfying ending that rewards both the audience and the characters- and boy, did it deliver. Cumberbatch, White, Stoppard, Hall and Clemens certainly did deliver. Luckily, they did exactly what I hoped they would in last week’s review and shifted the focus back home, the war feeling more like a backdrop and the not the setting. It’s only this week I realised just how much I had missed Valentine Wannop. Rebecca Hall’s Sylvia went completely the opposite way and I lost what little sympathy I had left for her- this was the only minor letdown, that she has developed, then fell back to being one-dimensional, shallow and whinging. And what she did at the end of the episode- I shan’t spoil it- was unforgivable.
However, Sylvia’s final action, purely to spite Christopher, was a necessary evil. Tietjens and Wannop have grown as people. He is no longer so uptight and single-minded, she is no longer simpering and naive. Christopher, like his brother, has washed his hands of Groby Hall, but the Tietjens name lives on in his son (I’ve never questioned his legitimacy). It was a delight to return to the deep and complex relationships that have anchored the show and made it so great- and finally we focused on the more compelling love story. Even Sylvia’s final appearance made me dislike her even more.
I cared about the men in the trenches, and what happened to them, but it never got focused on the war, or the tired old “ooh, wasn’t the war terrible?”- yes it was atrocious, but talk about flogging a dead horse. Instead, everyone got on with it and it became part of the flowing narrative flitting between England and France. This was no Journey’s End, All Quiet on The Western Front or Blackadder Goes Forth, but it was a worthy edition to the very few dramas which do the war justice without lecturing us on how terrible it is, or feeding off tired cliches.
Happy endings can run the risk of being schmaltzy, unnecessary and ruin the legacy of a brilliant drama. But here, it was what we wanted, and what Christopher and Valentine deserved. It was so touching and never saccharine that it sat well with everything. MacMaster’s inclusion was rather pointless, but the mothers of both Sylvia and Valentine (The wonderful Janet McTeer and Miranda Richardson respectively) provided some home truths and laid bare the motivations of both their daughters.
Cumberbatch was, as usual, outstanding (I’m calling a BAFTA nod, and hope I’m proved right)- He is a true hero for everything he does, even if he is deeply flawed and complex, like- hey!- a real human being. This was perhaps his strongest episode, and watching his arc complete itself was utterly compelling and satisfying. But Clemens did the best work- she was a revelation, becoming a character you truly could root for, and cared about just as much as Christopher. Her defiant screaming at the manipulative Sylvia was just what Christopher needed to see both women for what they truly were (Girl Power!)
It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to cover Parade’s End, the best BBC drama since The Shadow Line, it’s just a shame to see it go. And in its place? Guess what stuffy period drama- that undoes all the work this did in defying the cliches of Period Drama- is back on our screens? At least you’ve got The Hour to look forward to- whenever that’s back on…
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