Set against this backdrop of impending catastrophe is the story of English aristocrat Christopher Tietjens, trapped in a marriage to an unfaithful wife, and caught between his commitment to the values of Toryism and his unspoken love for a fearless young suffragette.
Spanning the glittering, shallow world of London high society, the trench-scarred battlefields of France, and the breathtaking English countryside, the sweeping five-part HBO Miniseries presentation PARADE’S END debuts TUESDAY, FEB. 26 (9:00-11:05 p.m. ET/PT), WEDNESDAY, FEB. 27 (9:00-11:05 p.m.) and THURSDAY, FEB. 28 (9:00-10:00 p.m.), exclusively on HBO. Adapted from Ford Madox Ford’s groundbreaking novels by Sir Tom Stoppard (Oscar®-winner for “Shakespeare in Love”), the drama was directed by Susanna White (HBO’s Emmy®-winning “Generation Kill”).
Benedict Cumberbatch (“Sherlock,” “War Horse”), Rebecca Hall (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” “The Town”) and Adelaide Clemens (“The Great Gatsby”) star in PARADE’S END, a Mammoth Screen production for the BBC in association with HBO Miniseries and Trademark Films and BBC Worldwide and Lookout Point; co-produced with BNP Paribas Fortis Film Fund and Anchorage Entertainment; filmed with the support of the Belgian federal government’s Tax Shelter Scheme. The executive producers are Michele Buck and Damien Timmer for Mammoth Screen, Ben Donald for BBC Worldwide, Simon Vaughan for Lookout Point TV, Judith Louis for ARTE France and Tom Stoppard. David Parfitt and Selwyn Roberts produce.
PARADE’S END also stars Roger Allam (“The Queen”), Anne-Marie Duff (“The Virgin Queen”), Rupert Everett (“The Importance of Being Earnest”), Stephen Graham (HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”), Janet McTeer (“Albert Nobbs”) and Miranda Richardson (“The Lost Prince”).
Married to Sylvia (Rebecca Hall), a callous socialite who has given birth to a child that may not be his, English aristocrat Christopher Tietjens (Benedict Cumberbatch) becomes entranced by Valentine Wannop (Adelaide Clemens), a fearless young woman who unexpectedly turns his world upside down. As war breaks out across Europe, Christopher, compelled by an outmoded code of conduct, feels obligated to remain loyal to his wife as he leaves a heartbroken Valentine to fight in France.
Christopher struggles to adapt to his new life as an army officer. When he returns to England briefly, suffering from shell shock, he is alarmed to discover himself the target of vicious rumors. Rejected by his father and brother, alienated from Sylvia, with only Valentine to support him, he attempts to hold on to sanity and meaning as the old world order collapses amidst tremendous upheaval.
Through Christopher’s experiences, PARADE’S END captures the devastation of war and the end of Edwardian ideals, and bridges the gap between feudal England and the dawn of modernism.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Executive producer Damien Timmer says, “The idea to adapt PARADE’S END came years ago when I first read the novels. Although the books are revered by critics, they aren’t well-known to a wide audience. This is one of the great epic stories of modernist fiction and it struck me that if you were going to attempt to adapt a masterpiece, it would need a very special person to write the screenplay. I spent some time mulling this over and in a moment of great bravery approached Tom Stoppard.”
Observes screenwriter Stoppard, “I came to read “Parade’s End” when Damien suggested it, and I had a strong instinct that it would appeal to me, which it very much did. I consider myself unfaithfully faithful in relation to my adaptation of Ford’s books. On one hand, it is faithful to the conception of character, time and place, and on the other hand, the novels are not structured to accommodate a television series. So you have to manipulate the elements you have.
“Although the war in the background is a huge factor in the story and it changed society irredeemably, PARADE’S END is not a First World War story. It’s the story of a man caught between two women who he has loved and loves. They’re very different from each other, and he’s a unique, most unusual gentleman. With a project like PARADE’S END, perhaps the greatest challenge for a writer is to find that balance between the personal and the public.”
Epic in range, the five parts of PARADE’S END were shot in more than a hundred locations across the UK and Belgium and required more than a hundred actors. The action moves from Groby, Christopher’s family home in Yorkshire, to the corridors of power in Whitehall; from the drawing rooms of high society to the trenches of war.
“The thing that really attracted me to PARADE’S END was the scope,” explains director Susanna White, who is no stranger to battle scenes, having directed “Generation Kill,” HBO’s Emmy®-winning miniseries. “It shows how the political landscape and class landscape of England is changed forever by the events of the First World War, but it’s told through three characters at its heart, with a unique love story at its center.”
She continues, “PARADE’S END is an extraordinary series of novels, a groundbreaking work that looks at huge historical shifts in society, the end of the Edwardian era and how that’s blown apart by the First World War. It has an extraordinary take on the war in that it looks at the emotional impact in a very modern way. It deals with trauma and sanity and how to try to preserve yourself mentally when you’re under that kind of pressure. It also looks at the rise of feminism and the suffragette movement, which was something, personally, I was very drawn to. I didn’t want it to feel like traditional costume drama – I wanted it to feel like the beginning of the modern age.”
Commenting on filming the war scenes, White says, “Ford Madox Ford stands out as a writer because he had direct experience of the events of the First World War in France. We went back to a more realistic reflection of how the trenches were. So there’s a claustrophobia about them and a lot of mud. You can barely walk two abreast in them. The actors experienced something that was very truthful when they were in them.”
Says Benedict Cumberbatch, “When I got into the trench that we created for the film with one of those tin hats on, I realized you’re standing basically in a grave, a six-foot hole – you’re that near to death, anyway. Everything above you is exploding and anything over the edge is death. With the tin helmet on, you can hardly see the sky. Just getting up the side of the trenches is hard, but going up a ladder, knowing you are walking into gunfire, goes against every instinct of what it is to be a human being or feel alive. I tried to tap into the fear, the loss and horror of war, and the sheer power of the disruption.”
About his character, Cumberbatch comments, “I have a huge affection for Christopher, more so than almost any other character I’ve ever played. I sympathize with his care, sense of duty and virtue, his intelligence in the face of hypocritical, self-serving mediocrity, his appreciation of quality and his love of country. He mourns a way of life that is being eroded by money, schemers and politicians, ineffectual military functionaries and the carelessness of industrialized progress. Christopher is a good man. He is a noble, if accidental, hero fighting for relevance, a man out of time who is struggling with political and economic injustice. That’s what makes him relevant.”
Rebecca Hall, who portrays Christopher Tietjens’ wife, Sylvia, observes, “Sylvia is one of the most complex characters I’ve ever come across in drama. She’s a mass of contradictions. She’s simultaneously amoral, and a devoted Catholic. She’s a big flirt, and yet she’s chaste. She’s manipulative and wily and angry, yet also victimized and a product of her situation. So she’s everything and its opposite all at the same time, which makes her completely dazzling and mesmerizing, frankly.
“Sylvia is instinctively intelligent and a very moving character. She makes terrible choices and behaves abominably, but there wasn’t a single choice she makes that I couldn’t explain.”
Describing her character, Valentine Wannop, Adelaide Clemens says, “She is this forward-thinking, vibrant, brilliant-minded and free-willed girl with an amazing amount of integrity. It’s as though she’s developed her own sense of morals, free of any influence by society or her upbringing. It’s just what she considers to be right or wrong. I think that’s where she gets that democratic drive for women and pacifists and why she has so much conviction. At the base of it, she wears her heart on her sleeve.”
Clemens points to the corset as a good reason for the women’s repression of the era, noting, “You can’t get as much breath when you are restricted by a corset. You can’t run or pick up things without an effort. You are constrained in a way that men are not. The whole psychology of wearing it was a real experience because I’m quite a physical person and it gave me an appreciation of what the women went through back then.”
Executive producer Michele Buck says of the characters in PARADE’S END, “These people were living through an extraordinary era when the world was turned upside down, and I think that’s something that resonates at any time. Our value system is very different from Christopher’s, but we can feel empathy for characters who are stumbling as they watch the world around them being transformed.”