Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Ripping Yarn: Benedict Cumberbatch's Mouth Is Quite Amazing, Writes Rachel Cooke

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Ripping Yarn: Benedict Cumberbatch's Mouth Is Quite Amazing, Writes Rachel Cooke

Article excerpt

Parade's End


People say that Ford Madox Ford is now more studied than read--and who am I to disagree? On the other hand, a friend of mine once asked my husband to remove himself from his dining table when they disagreed about the relative merits of Ford's 1915 novel, The Good Soldier (and having written that sentence, I will now remove myself directly to Pseuds Corner).


The old boy does have his fans. Tom Stoppard, who has adapted the four-novel cycle Parade's End for the BBC, has said that it took him only 200 pages to grasp that it was a masterpiece. Not that this stopped him being scared of it. "You have to trot to keep up," he said recently. "Often you don't know where you are in the time schemes and you're off balance about whether you're sympathising with a character or not."

Will the series lead to a sales spike for Ford? I doubt it. Parade's End (Fridays, 9pm) feels unexpectedly weightless on screen. Difficult books--by which I mean those that nod approvingly in the general direction of modernism--tend to be too light on plot for television. The necessity for concision, moreover, means that what is rich on the page sometimes seems only baffling when it tumbles from the mouths of actors. Not the best advertisement, then. I don't wish to sound ungrateful. For all that I share the suspicion that the BBC will pull pretty much anything off the shelf if it will get actors into spats and plus fours, long gloves and fox furs (how the success of ITV's awful Downton Abbey--so wet, you could shoot snipe off it--must rankle), I can't help but love it for going with this one. What other TV company in the world would commission an adaptation of Ford, trail it halfway to death, feed stories about it even to the Sun and screen it at 9pm on a Friday night? Answer: there is none.

"For a gentleman," says Christopher Tietjens (Benedict Cumberbatch) to his friend Macmaster (Stephen Graham), "there is something ... Call it a parade." Macmaster has just asked him if he will take back his horrid, unfaithful wife, Sylvia (Rebecca Hall) and what Tietjens means is that for men of his class, appearance is all. …

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