Sunday, 19 August 2012

No More Parades

As the summer goes into overdrive just as peoples' thoughts start to turn to going back to work, and the Olympics retreat into what already feels like distant memory, so the TV channels unveil their autumn line-ups.

The most eye-catching of what has been announced so far is undoubtedly the BBC's adaptation of the Parade's End tetralogy, which starts on BBC 2 on Friday.  The Sunday papers have pushed this heaily today, as the BBC's answer to the Downton Abbey behemoth, but I do hope that people aren't going to get too excited, as, unless Tom Stoppard has ripped tha heart out of it, Parade's End is a much more difficult and involving proposition than its ITV rival.  You can almost feel the slight anxiety that this adaptation has caused amongst the litterati in their pre-screening articles.  "Waugh we're ok with, we know where we are with Waugh - 500 words by tomorrow morning?" "Ah yes, Greene again - Catholicism, tortured soul, affairs" "Ford Madox Ford- ???"

Poor old Ford Madox Ford is little read these days, although he really deserves to be more mainstream.  In part, I think it's a question of style.  I've never really gone overboard on modernist writing, but his prose has a far greater clarity than Virginia Woolf, say, and his dialogue is better than Henry Green's (whom I think he probably most resembles). Persevere with the first 50 or so of the well over 800 pages of Parade's End, and once you "get" the narrative voice it's really absorbing stuff.

It would be unfair of me to blow the lid on the plot so I'll restrain myself, but I hope the cast are up to their roles.  Benedict Cumberbatch has a tricky job to pull of as the lead, Tietjens is quite a difficult hero for the early 21st century.  Even in the social milieu of pre Great War England his 18th century Tory attitudes mark him out from the crowd, and there are several occasions when you want to do nothing so much as give him a damn good shake.  The problem of course is that he tends to just roll with whatever punches life throws at him; which, given the scheming of his ludicrous wife, and his (chaste) love for the young suffragette Valentine Wannop, are legion.

Where Ford succeeds is in exposing the destructive effects of the war on the class system and the rigid certainties of the Edwardian age.  By offering Christopher Tietjens up as a saintly every man, we can observe the conflict as it deconstructs his personality and very sense of self, before rebuilding him anew.

I'll withold judgment for now (and the previews of the adaptation have been uniformly positive), but if they get Parade's End right, we could be looking at landmark television that can stand alongside Brideshead Revisited or The Jewel in the Crown.  If they miss the mark, then perhaps the book is truly, as I suspect it might be, unfilmable.

Watch this space.

1 comment:

  1. As someone who fell in love/hate with the tetralogy for an A level extended essay at the suggestion of my Ford loving tutor I have to commend you for capturing my mixed feelings about this adaptation. I’ve never been sure that it could be ‘done’ in visual medium and I am intrigued, if somewhat cautious about watching it. That said, having taken the opportunity to see Benedict Cumberbatch reading some extracts at the Cheltenham Festival I think he has measure of the man, but how that will translate into the linear narrative arc suggested for a televisual format I’m not sure. My feeling is that it’s success, or otherwise will lie in how the screenplay was adapted and how much the audience is willing to accept such a nuanced and difficult portrayal of a ‘Golden’ era, especially with Downton Abbey returning shortly.