A Love Triangle Unraveling Against the Backdrop of Societal Upheaval: 'Parade's End'

Parade’s End (1964) juxtaposes conservative aristocrat Christopher Tietjens’ domestic warfare with the sociopolitical turmoil of the First World War. It also introduces us to young Judi Dench as a beguiling Valentine in the story’s love triangle.

Theatre 625: Parade's End

Distributor: BBC
Cast: Ronald Hines, Judi Dench, Jeanne Moody
Network: BBC
US release date: 2013-04-16

Songwriters Peter Allen and Carole Bayer Sager once assured us that “Everything old is new again.” Those lyrics certainly apply to Parade’s End, which is once again in vogue.

The Ford Madox Ford tetralogy, published in the '20s, has been described as one of the best novels of the 20th century. Thus, it's not terribly surprising that the man often called Britain’s greatest playwright, Tom Stoppard, adapted Parade’s End as a five-part miniseries shown on the BBC in August-September 2012 and on HBO in February 2013. The most recent version plays up the love triangle among Christopher Tietjens, his wife Sylvia, and the young woman everyone assumes is Christopher’s mistress, Valentine Wannop.

Likely because of this adaptation, featuring an attractive cast (Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall, Adelaide Clemens) exploring backstory and new scenes written by Stoppard, the BBC has just released a two-disc DVD set of the original three-part 1964 television adaptation. It, perhaps surprisingly, is a more coherent telling of Ford’s original tale and can provide the missing plot pieces for audiences who might not have understood the puzzling nuances of the BBC-HBO collaboration. Audiences familiar with the novel or the Stoppard-scripted adaptation inevitably will compare either with the 1964 miniseries, which is famous for providing Judi Dench with a standout role as the teenaged Valentine.

Ford’s story—a hefty 900 pages of small print in the single-volume edition—is difficult to pare into a few hours of television, and scriptwriters John Hopkins and Stoppard chose different approaches to summarize and dramatize the novel. In three scripts produced as part of the Theatre 625 anthology television series, Hopkins emphasizes World War I and its haunting impact on Christopher Tietjens, a man so conservative that even he describes his politics as last having relevance in the 18th century. Tietjens is a brilliant aristocrat who, when war comes, chooses to head for the front lines rather than remain within the safety of a government advisory post. On the battlefield he uses his analytical skills to supply and maneuver troops, along the way gaining the trust and respect of his fellow soldiers. While near the battlefront, he also organizes his thoughts about his demanding socialite wife and, should he return from war, his future with her and with Valentine, the suffragette who has won his affection.

The DVD set follows the structure of Ford’s novels. Each approximately 90-minute episode is titled after a book in the tetralogy: “Some Do Not”, “No More Parades”, and “A Man Could Stand Up”. (Ford’s finalé covering the aftermath of war, “The Final Post”, is left out, and both televised adaptations conclude with the armistice celebrations described in “A Man Could Stand Up”.)

Like the novel and the 1964 adaptation, the latest version reveals the societal changes produced by the First World War, a time heralding “no more parades” of either soldiers or strict social expectations. The BBC-HBO collaboration, however, resulted in a series of scenes that, although often visually beautiful, provide mere glimpses of the conflicts assailing Tietjens. This miniseries may have made Parade’s End “new again”, but the 1964 adaptation excels at exploring Tietjens’ mental state and illustrating why he believes that, for himself, there can be no more “parades” of class manners that hide the turmoil concealed behind closed doors.

The 1964 version may be “old” in its storytelling technology -- black-and-white scenes, most filmed in a studio, with only drawings or photographs used to indicate battles or crowd celebrations -- but it allows characters more time to explain their feelings and, as a result, makes their complex relationships with one another more easily understood. Theatre 625 lived up to its name and broadcast a series of televised plays, a decidedly different style for audiences accustomed to a “show” as well as “tell” method of television storytelling.

Today’s audiences expect a story to be expanded beyond the studio to filming locations that will make the period settings seem current and real. Therefore, the 2012 adaptation appropriately “shows” more than “tells”. Viewers see, for example, the Tietjens’ family home at Groby or voyeuristically watch Christopher and Sylvia’s sexual adventures on a train or Valentine’s long-awaited love scene. The lower-budget, studio-bound 1964 adaptation, in contrast, “tells” (sometimes aided by brief wartime flashback scenes) of the horrors of battle; it highlights the rampant gossip surrounding Christopher, Sylvia, and Valentine that threatens their social survival and clarifies Valentine’s steadfast love for Christopher. Although far less beautifully filmed, the older, dialogue-heavy adaptation of Parade’s End effectively presents a gripping character study of a love triangle unraveling against the backdrop of societal upheaval.

“Christopher Tietjens will never change,” Dench’s Valentine affirms during the third episode, even when she is confronted with a man possibly driven mad by the war. Ford’s portrait of a conservative man living during a time at odds with his beliefs allows the character little opportunity for real change, despite his relationship with forward-thinking Valentine. The difference between television adaptations is greatest in the scriptwriters’ and actors’ interpretations of Tietjens. Instead of the romanticized version, well played by Cumberbatch, that indicates post-war Christopher may indeed be open to change, Ronald Hines (Elizabeth R, Not in Front of the Children) harshly illustrates the toll of war on Christopher’s psyche.

Tietjens berates himself for attempting to save a soldier, only for the man to be further wounded during the rescue. He recalls the hardships endured on the front lines; at one point he tells Valentine that he must talk about everything he has held inside for two years. He becomes more clearly martyred by his wife’s interference in his military career. Tietjens does not change his principles, but he can no longer completely control his thoughts. The Great War is the focal point of this Parade’s End, and the greatest casualty is Tietjens’ mind.

Whereas Hines is always believable as Christopher, Jeanne Moody’s Sylvia often seems over-the-top crazier than her husband, even at his maddest. Of course, nearly half a century later, evaluating a performance by current audience expectations is not completely fair. Moody’s acting follows the televised play style popular in the early 1960s, and her reactions, which would be ideal for the stage, are frequently too large or loud for the intimacy of a close-up shot. Moody's Sylvia may seem too much of a stereotypical villain for audiences more accustomed to subtlety in television acting.

The star of this adaptation is Dench, and fans who have not had the opportunity to see her early roles should watch Parade’s End just for her performance. She convincingly plays the wide-eyed suffragette who falls in love with the highly restrained Tietjens. Valentine knows exactly what her emotion-based decision means for her future and willingly agrees to become a mistress. Whereas the 2012 adaptation suggests that Valentine and Christopher may have a more conventional (i.e., someday married) happy ending and “shows” rather than “tells” details about the intimacy of their reunion, the chaste 1964 adaptation provides no such easy conclusion. Dench’s Valentine has a grown-up understanding that, by choosing Christopher, she embarks on a very difficult path. There may be “no more parades” of class expectations, but that does not translate into a classless society where an unmarried woman, living openly with her lover, will be embraced by anyone but him.

As is typical of productions retrieved, decades after broadcast, from a studio vault for DVD release, this set has no extras. The first disc contains two episodes, with the remaining installment on the second disc. Nevertheless, this set is well worth watching, especially for Parade’s End fans, audiences who want to know the rest of the story, or film fans of Judi Dench (most recently in Skyfall and J. Edgar) who want to see this enduring, engaging star near the beginning of her career. The 1964 adaptation may indeed be old by television standards, but it presents an intriguing interpretation that offers new insights into Ford’s classic story.






Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Mobley Laments the Evil of "James Crow" in the US

Austin's Mobley makes upbeat-sounding, soulful pop-rock songs with a political conscience, as on his latest single, "James Crow".


Jordan Tice's "Bad Little Idea" Is a Satirical Spin on Dire Romance (premiere)

Hawktail's Jordan Tice impresses with his solo work on "Bad Little Idea", a folk rambler that blends bluesy undertones with satiric wit.


Composer Ilan Eshkeri Discusses His Soundtrack for the 'Ghost of Tsushima' Game

Having composed for blockbuster films and ballet, Ilan Eshkeri discusses how powerful emotional narratives and the opportunity for creative freedom drew him to triple-A video game Ghost of Tsushima.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Love and Cinema: The Ruinous Lives in Żuławski's L'important c'est d'aimer

Żuławski's world of hapless also-rans in L'important C'est D'aimer is surveyed with a clear and compassionate eye. He has never done anything in his anarchic world by the halves.


On Bruce Springsteen's Music in Film and TV

Bruce Springsteen's music in film and television captured author Caroline Madden's imagination. She discuses her book, Springsteen as Soundtrack, and other things Springsteen in this interview.


Alt-pop's merci, mercy Warns We May "Fall Apart"

Australian alt-pop singer-songwriter, merci, mercy shares a video for her catchy, sophisticated anthem, "Fall Apart".


Tears in Rain: 'Blade Runner' and Philip K. Dick's Legacy in Film

Blade Runner, and the work of Philip K. Dick, continues to find its way into our cinemas and minds. How did the visions of a paranoid loner become the most relevant science fiction of our time?


London Indie-Poppers the Motive Impress on "You" (premiere)

Southwest London's the Motive concoct catchy, indie-pop earworms with breezy melodies, jangly guitars, and hooky riffs, as on their latest single "You".


Vigdis Hjorth's 'Long Live the Post Horn!' Breathes Life into Bureaucratic Anxiety

Vigdis Hjorth's Long Live the Post Horn! is a study in existential torpor that, happily, does not induce the same condition in the reader.


Konqistador and HanHan Team for Darkwave Hip-Hop on "Visaya"

Detroit-based electronic/industrial outfit, Konqistador team with Toronto hip-hopper HanHan for "Visaya", a song that blends darkwave and rap into an incendiary combination.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.