"Benedict Cumberbatch is the centrepiece of a vibrantly realised, beautifully poise piece of television, which has claims to being seen as a work of art."The script is a free adaptation with a fierce knife edge of idiom, with superbly spot-lit individual characters: Rufus Sewell as a demented vicar who talks dirty; Anne-Marie Duff as his fluttering Scottish wife who takes her love elsewhere. It is, in fact, as grand a British ensemble as you could dream of mustering. There is the magnificent Miranda Richardson as the young girl’s mother and Roger Allam, one of Britain’s finest actors, as a blimp of a general who isn't just. We also get Rupert Everett -- bearded, sombre and straight -- as main character Tietjens' brother. As his wife Sylvia, Rebecca Hall, the daughter of Sir Peter, whom we’ve seen in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Ben Affleck’s The Town, wins you over by a principle of progressive conquest. For a long, irritating moment you think she’s acting like Scarlett Johansen at her worst until you realise that the petulance and the narcissism and the indomitable self-regard is a function of the actress’ self control and is capable of being mitigated and shaded and rendered mercilessly human in a hundred ways. This is a superb portrayal at the very edge of sympathy, magnetic and repellent, a characterisation by an actress of great sweep and subtlety. Then there's Cumberbatch as decent, patient, blind honourable Tory squire Tietjens staring at the sorrows and splendours of destiny like a midday sun of madness and renunciation. It's an astonishing performance not least because it seems somehow to take on the authority of a lost generation of great acting. He uses his voice so rich and deep and subtle like the grand piano of one the great actors of the Olivier generation. Yet his Tietjens is character acting carried to a point where authenticity transcends itself and turns into something heroic. This is a performance that ranks with Roger Livesey in Michael Powell's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp -- a parallel work, as it happens -- or the very best work of Alec Guinness. It is extraordinary that a performance as distinguished as this -- a more significant performance, let’s say, than Daniel Day Lewis’ admirable turn in Lincoln –– should be thrown away by a commercial television network negligently ignorant of the diamond it somehow ended up with in its hand. And Cumberbatch is not an isolated virtuoso. He is the centrepiece of a vibrantly realised, beautifully poise piece of television, which has claims to being seen as a work of art. And which has -- in any case -- an obvious appeal to the more or less vast hoard of people who have an appetite for seeing love and war articulated by a great dramatic writer, performed by the best British actors alive, brought to life with a very credible sense of loss and pain and human worth. Channel Nine execs should hang their heads in shame. The ABC should wonder what crime against nature it committed by not securing Parade's End. People who care about words and images should order the DVD set and think about reading one of the weirder and more wonderful books to come out of World War I and the sorrow and pity of the 20th century.
Nine rains on a Parade of quality drama
Parade's End is one of the most formidable shows to come out of Britain, writes arts critic and cultural commentator Peter Craven. So how did Channel Nine screw it up so badly?