We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
As Downton Abbey surges toward its fourth season, "Parade's End" could be altogether average and it would still benefit from Downton's popularity. Fortunately for Brit-TV junkies, this five-part, five-hour HBO/BBC miniseries is way above average, as evident from the glowing reception it received when it premiered on the Beeb last August.
Widespread accolades are guaranteed to continue with its stateside premiere on HBO, and no wonder: the four source novels by the quintessentially British Ford Madox Ford (later combined as the "Parade's End" tetralogy) were adapted by Sir Tom Stoppard — the renowned playwright/screenwriter's first TV work in 30 years — and director Susanna White is on a hot streak after directing acclaimed TV adaptations of "Bleak House" and "Jane Eyre," in addition to the family feature "Nanny McPhee Returns" and episodes of HBO's "Generation Kill" and "Boardwalk Empire." When it comes to behind-the-camera pedigree, you don't get much classier than this.
Ford's novels pose an epic challenge of adaptation, which may explain why "Parade's End" lacks the organic flow of Downton Abbey, but further comparison is pointless: "Parade's End" is in a class by itself, and Stoppard has honored the essence of Ford's decade-spanning fiction without limiting himself to slavish fidelity. If the series' chronology feels occasionally uneven, it's also bolstered by Stoppard's original contributions, including the same deliciously droll humor that earned the writer an Oscar for scripting "Shakespeare in Love."
Stoppard's chronology is linear (as it is in the novels), with Part One (spanning 1908-12), establishing numerous characters while focusing on the story's central love triangle: Christopher Tietjens (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a dignified throwback to the now-fading Edwardian era, an aristocrat from a privileged, land-owning family. A brilliant officer in the Department of Statistics, Tietjens holds firm to the principled conviction that respectable men must adhere to a certain sense of "parade," a code of conduct essential to self-respect and social standing.