Parade’s End: The Book and the Movie

I recently watched the BBC mini-series production of Parade’s End (by Ford Madox Ford) and liked it well enough that I wanted to read the book (or books – there are four which comprise the set). I got the sense that the book ought to be much better, because there seemed to be a lot of subtleties and complexities to the characters. It turns out to be more than that. The screenplay (written by Tom Stoppard) was confusing to me and as I read the book I realized that more than just the teleplay, the major fault of the show was in the stars (ha – a play on words on The Fault in the Stars, the book and movie and cultural event currently dominating this week in America). The stars were great, and that was the problem. Who, at this point, does not enjoy watching Benedict Cumberbatch do whatever? And Rebecca Hall was brilliant as Sylvia. Adelaide Clemens, as Valentine Wannop, was irresistible – but they were all too much. The main character, Tietjins, has zero to no charisma in the book. Cumberbatch is bursting with it. Sylvia is gorgeous, vain and cruel, but more shallow than played by Hall. And Miss Wannop is not a pure angel – a good person, yes, but a hard-working and somewhat serious young woman in the book. We liked the characters in the television series more than they should be “liked”, because we like the movie stars. The characters are not meant to be loved, they are meant to be experienced. They are complex, but not confused, and in literature – great literature – you can pull that off. Books let you three-dimensionalize in your mind. Movies and TV by their nature flatten and level things out. I still enjoyed watching Parade’s End, but reading it is a treasure.

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