Parade’s End: Absinthe and the Multivitamin

I’m caught up with BBC’s Parade’s End, which is getting all sorts of fanfare because it’s the quintessential Edwardian classic dipped in Tom Stoppard’s inkwell and drizzled with a cast of Britain’s finest.

And it’s excellent, really. Particularly the dialogue (as one would expect from Stoppard), which is sparing without ever becoming sparse. Peculiar, in all the right places. But I wish production made different casting choices for the love triangle, which to me is exceedingly lopsided in Rebecca Hall’s favor. And frankly, I think it’s because she’s just infinitely more charismatic and interesting, and her character – selfish, cruel, vain, but also exceptionally clever and complex – beautifully falls apart and defies all cliche. It’s a masterful portrayal.

Enter the other woman played by Adelaide Clemens – angelic, blonde with crisp highlights (really? in 1914?), presumably intelligent, liberal, and dull. An insufferably dull suffragette. Cute, but still duller than my Tuesdays. And I can’t help but think A) the character could’ve used more dimension, and B) the actress could’ve used more method. But this is the character – in all her blinking, squeaky, Bridget-Jones naivete – that I’m meant to root for. I’m supposed to want her and Sherlock Holmes – ahem, Benedict Cumberbatch – to do as rabbits do. She’s intended to be more alluring and better-suited for him than Rebecca Hall’s hot, hot mess.

Fuck that. It’s all presumption and no poetry.

In the meantime, the marriage between Hall and Cumberbatch’s characters is perfect in its dysfunction. There’s fire in the rich, delicious bundle of unsaid longing, of two people who want and hate each other, pretending to be bound by social convention when in fact they are joined by a deep incapacity to love out loud. They are meant for each other, made to torment one another through the remaining hours of their own youth and rage. It’s completely, utterly real. It’s the kind of love you want just once, can survive only once. And in its aftermath, you look for healing. For calm seas and a cool breeze, a soothing balm for a bleeding soul.

Nothing wrong with that. There’s a time for crazy, and a time for lazy. But if Rebecca Hall is absinthe, then Adelaide Clemens is a multivitamin. The former you ingest because you can’t help yourself; the latter because, well, doctor’s orders.

You see? There’s no poetry in it.

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One thought on “Parade’s End: Absinthe and the Multivitamin

  1. I’m so glad you agree! I love Sylvia – she’s beautiful and the annoying righteous girl in white is so anachronistic it’s tedious.
    I hope Christopher and Sylvia end up together. She loves him, despite herself.

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