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Parade's End: A Review

By Briennewalsh @BrienneWalsh

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Parade’s End: A Review

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It’s a good thing people who lived through World War I are almost all dead, because if I have to read, hear, watch or think about another Great War drama, I’m going to off myself. 

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That might be the most offensive thing I’ve ever written. I don’t wish anyone dead except for myself, really. 

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But so much of our cultural discourse in the 20th century was dominated, perhaps necessarily, by the two World Wars — in art, in literature, in critical theory, in theater, even (or perhaps especially) in fucking films. Even at the end of the 20th century, motherfuckers like Steven Spielberg could not stop making pictures about that shit. I used to be pretty into it, but now I’m have it up to HERE. (Imagine me marking a space in the middle of my forehead with my hand, and then yelling at a chid.)

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It’s not that the wars don’t matter, I just don’t think there’s anything new to be learned from them. Am I wrong? It’s like, ok, rich people lived in pretty houses and their servants weren’t their equals…until they all went to the battlefield! Then, when the men came home, they found their Irish chauffeurs eating at the dinner table wearing inappropriate tweed costumes.

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That’s a lesson no one learned anywhere except from Downtown Abbey, but that should give you an idea of what the Great Wars have been reduced to, now that they’ve been beaten to the ground by the entertainment industry for so many years.

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Which is why I don’t understand why HBO and the BBC wasted their time with Parade’s End, a British drama about World War I based on the epic novel written by Ford Madox Ford. The BBC must have been like, “I wonder which 20th century British officer we haven’t beaten to death with a miniseries yet?” And HBO was like, “Our programming is becoming increasingly shitty, maybe if we buy slap Tom Stoppard and a British accent on a show, people will know without having to think that it’s legitimate?”

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I wish I could tell you more about the entire plotline, but I tried reading the novel, and let me tell you, it was boring as shit. By page 50, the most exciting thing to happen was that the main character went for a drive and played golf against his will. I put it down two years ago, and never picked it up again. It’s a shame, because I really did love “The Good Soldier” by the same author, probably because it was 1/4 the length.

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From what I can tell after watching the first episode of the miniseries is that “Parade’s End” is about a a landy gentry named Christopher Tietjins, who impregnates an evil socialite name Sylvia one day on a train, and is forced to marry her. Sort of imagine Anna Karenina in Britain.

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Ford really, really hates human beings — he thinks women are silly philandering fools, and that most men are complete pussies. His hatred seeps through his language in his writing. In the miniseries, however, it remains sort of detached and chilly — you never really quite feel anything for the characters, no matter how contemptible or pretty.

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Tietjins is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the British actor who played Sherlock in the excellent BBC miniseries. In Parade’s End, he has blonde hair, and none of Sherlock’s sardonic wit. Sylvia is played by Rebecca Hall, whose hair, fiery red, so perfectly lights up the colors on her face that she looks, on screen, like a living, breathing Botticelli painting.

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The guy who plays Al Capone on Boardwalk Empire also makes an appearance, with a Scottish accent; and there is a Raphaelian beauty of an actress, Adelaide Clemens, who plays Valentine Wannop, and also looks exactly like a baby-faced Carrie Mulligan.

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Valentine is a suffragette and an ingenue; she is the girl for whom Tietjins, a sober and fuddy duddy sort of lover, is perfectly suited.

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There are a lot of gorgeous scenes, many of them overwrought. A boy drops a coin in a well, and it tumbles through space brightly, the special effects making it appear like an animated movie. Valentine and Tietjins get lost in a wall of fog on their way back from lunch and she, in a cream crocheted dress, emerges from no where to almost kiss him.

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All of this is well and good, but I found that I couldn’t watch the second episode in the series, because I know that Tietjins will eventually go to war, and I truly can’t stomach the landscape of it.

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The anticipation of gore and blood and intestines hanging out all over the ground makes me completely sick. What can I say, I’m just ready to fast forward to the current time, when wars are fought with drones on tiny green screens.

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Maybe the one interesting angle is that Ford Madox Ford was both German and British. I don’t really think that’s an interesting angle, but who knows, maybe he had some internal conflict that shed some new light on why the German murdered 6 million Jews for no reason.

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Otherwise, I can’t think of a single justification for making it through the end of Parade’s End; perhaps to see Rebecca Hall in a brocade dressing gown, her hair to her waist; perhaps to wait for Valentine’s bobbed blonde hair to grow down her back, so she looks even more beautiful. For that, still photographs work almost as effectively.


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