Following on from the stunning opening episode, Parade’s End Episode two slows to examine the characters in greater depth, as the spectre of the Great War looms ever closer.
Please note that while we won’t be discussing plot spoilers in this review, characterisation, performances and thematic material are discussed in depth, as well as minor references to the previous episode.
The second episode of this remarkable mini-series is a continued showcase for every member of the cast. While still the lead character, the focus shifts marginally from Benedict Cumberbatch as Christopher Tietjens, and instead widens to bring the other characters into greater clarity.
Following his sudden break down at the close of the first episode, Benedict here continues to run the emotional gauntlet, with his first appearance in the episode a true showcase of the buttoned up, repressed state Christopher keeps so tightly under control. He doesn’t exactly evolve much in this hour, instead reinforcing those elements we saw of him in the first while bringing new, at times absurd parts of his nobility into play. Only by the close do we see the ache in his heart truly begin to become visible to others, and he clearly doesn’t know how to deal with it as a character.
If anything, both Rebecca Hall as Sylvia Tietjens and Adelaide Clemens as Valentine Wannop show the most growth as characters. Rebecca is quite remarkable here, after her unsympathetic appearance in the first hour. While still brazenly attempting to provoke her husband – including one memorable moment that bears obvious comparison to A Scandal in Belgravia – Sylvia also slightly softens towards him, hinting at a possible flicker of mutual understanding that was missing before. She also seems to begin a concerted effort to change her behaviour and bring herself more in line with society norms, while still reverting to some bad habits. Yet significantly, the closing moments of the episode silently reveal more about the character through quiet and beauitful visuals than through any of her actions.
Valentine however truly shows her youth and naivity of the world, and begins to deepen as a contradictory character. Becoming more tightly embroiled in the militant aspects of the suffragette movement, she is inserted as fictional witness to one of the most famous real-world moments of the campaign for women’s rights on March 10 1914 at the National Gallery. It reveals an intriguing reaction, one of admiration and respect of great art that others find offensive and indicative of all they are fighting against. Later, Adelaide is allowed to finally let loose emotionally, revealing the lack of knowledge her character has about her own sexual biology that fundamentally marks her out as a child in many aspects, but is also emblematic of the need to balance the sexes.
The rest of the cast also build upon episode one. Stephen Graham is great fun as Macmaster, who alongside Anne Marie Duff keeps the comedy rattling along in the episode. Rufus Sewell also returns this hour, continuing in a deliciously unhinged manner that provides another eye opening moment after playing off an extremely straight laced Geoffrey Palmer. There’s also a brief appearance by Benedict’s father Timothy Carlton, during a dinner party on the Yorkshire Moors.
In summation, this is not an episode of narrative advancement. Aside from the final stages, it is entirely a character piece, a literal calm before the storm that is presumably designed to heighten the impact of the dramatic events to come with the outbreak of war. Though slower and slightly more scattershot than the opener, it’s still a superb hour of television, intent on reflecting on emotionally seismic events while preparing us for what looks to be a highly evocative recreation of the trenches of the Western Front in episode three.
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