Dull as Trench Water

As a general rule, I am first up for any historic drama or classic adaptation on TV. Throw Benedict Cumberbatch into the mix and it really should be a winner. I really wanted to like it and watched all five episodes with that intention, yet I foundParade’s End curiously flat and unconvincing. It started out well enough, but what happened to stall it mid sequence? Perhaps it’s a drama that requires a second viewing to gain every nuance? Or perhaps it requires me to find the books and re-read them. I am not sure I can be bothered on the strength of the recent series.
I expected a script from Tom Stoppard to sizzle and crack, but alas it was not to be. Despite his dramatic pedigree, Stoppard seemed to have made that fatal error of assuming prior knowledge of the book on the part of his audience. To be fair to him, I imagine that the producers and editors had some large hand in the end result, particularly in the last two episodes, which jumped around from scene to scene like fleas on a scrap-yard dog. Beautifully acted (apart from some mumbling here and there that the sound man should have sorted out) and the sets, costumes etc., which were top class. Yet still, somehow, the whole thing left me with a distinct sense of ‘meh’.
Reduced plot is invariably down to the sheer scope of the original being squeezed into a too short a time slot. Getting all of the nuances of any book into film or TV will never be easy.  LOTR for example, was never going to cover all three books in the time allowed, even if it was over nine hours; but at least Peter Jackson made a fair fist of it and gave everyone a version of the original that made some kind of sense.Parade’s End on the other hand is a tetralogy reduced to five hours of TV which rather points toward an awful lot of film metaphorically hitting the editing room floor, to an extent where continuity of story and character suffered near terminal damage.  I simply could not just pick the bones from the TV series gleaming through the tattered remnants of flesh the editors permitted to remain.
Parade’s End had all the bitchy women and the pompous, testosterone-fuelled men that should enthral, and all the horror of war and the ‘cut and thrust’ of social and political history that should engross; yet even the insertion, if you will excuse the pun, of a few random sex scenes, which now seem obligatory for all TV dramas, could not rescue Parade’s End from itself. An audience expects these adapted versions not merely to make sense but also to engage. It should raise your pulse with the energy and the wonder of its performance. It should make you think.
Not knowing the Parade’s End novels well, I can’t really say where the editing caused this TV version to appear so stilted, but I am willing to bet that five episodes could, and perhaps even should, have been eight at the very least. For me, at least, there remained something vital lacking in this TV portrayal of Parade’s End that made it just plain dull as trench water.