So, in comparison to the last three episodes this was a little hit-and-miss. It was a little dodgy in trying to balance some comedy with its intellectual cynicism. I mean, once again, it defied clichéd an introduced further to complexities to Christopher and his relationship with (one of) the women in his life. It was still head-and-shoulders above any of its peers, but in comparison to the preceding episodes, it was a little bit of a let-down. Allow me to elaborate…
To be fair, it started off in a very interesting way, focusing on every character but Christopher himself. But Valentine and Christopher’s brother turned out to be pointless inclusions, as the action all happened in Rouen, so one side of Christopher’s love triangle was emitted (apart from one beautiful moment where Christopher runs to a woman he thinks is Valentine, only for it to be Sylvia driving away). The wonderful side characters were gone, and the episode sorely lacked them.
The major flaw in this episode was that it focused on an area done to death in dramas of a similar ilk- we are in France during the First World War. Now, in my opinion only two works of fiction have done this period of history justice and effectively represented both the officer and soldier classes- R. C. Sherriff’s moving play Journey’s End (If you haven’t read it or seen it performed, please do as soon as possible) and Blackadder Goes Forth (That ending still gets me…).
Whilst Parade’s End avoided such pitfalls by focusing on an aspect we rarely see- the officers in chateaus, making the important decisions whilst Tommies and ‘The Hun’ are blown up pointlessly in equal measure. It was an interesting diversion, and even Roger Allam’s General became a much more engaging, even warm presence. Like pretty much everything in this miniseries, he defies cliché and we see a sympathetic character who is far more
The romance that has thoroughly engaged so far took a backseat here. Rebecca Hall’s Sylvia was beginning to win me over, but up until a significant moment towards the end, she returned to becoming very irritating. This is not the fault of Rebecca Hall, who portrays Sylvia as a very layered character, but on her own- and I put the blame on Stoppard’s writing and White’s direction- Sylvia was incredibly grating and garnered no sympathy. Once again, we side entirely with poor Christopher- Sylvia is petulant and selfish, and nothing she does makes us like her, or empathise with her.
Until the best moment of the episode, and perhaps one of the best Christopher/Sylvia moments of the entire miniseries- Sylvia puts on her “Whore’s Trosseau” and tells Christopher she has been five years without a man. Here Hall turns everything we thought about Sylvia on its head. It’s an outstanding bit of acting from both actors, but when we realise Sylvia has caused Christopher even more trouble for throwing out the drunk General O’Hara. It undermines that previous beautiful moment, but made it clear Sylvia is just emotionally manipulative and nothing more, not really caring for Christopher as we had been led to believe- it’s an astounding performance in that Rebecca Hall has everyone on-screen and off fooled up this point.
Judging on the ‘next time…’ teaser, we’re going to focus mainly on Christopher in the trenches. Perhaps it was misleading, and like Episode 3 it will only be in segments, but Cumberbatch and Stoppard are going to have to tread carefully and pull off something spectacular if it is to be a fitting end to a brilliant show. Again, despite being the weakest episode of the miniseries, it still stands head and shoulders above any of its peers (including a certain period drama returning to out screens…eurgh…). But it suffered for putting too much emphasis on Sylvia, and diverting from the far more engaging drama across the channel.
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