Friday, March 7, 2014
Girl of the Day - More Adelaide!
We finished the BBC miniseries of Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End last night. It was extraordinarily well-done. I had also just finished the novels -- a tetralogy of four novels that Ford published in the mid-1920s. They are also terrific, although the last one (not included in the mini-series), doesn't really fit, and likely shouldn't be thought of as part of the same novel.
The novel (novels?) is difficult, but not entirely impenetrable -- they are told in what might be described as a modernist stream-of-consciousness technique, but one that is much less obscure than, say, James Joyce's Ulysses (coming out around the same time) or Faulkner (coming out a tad later). The TV show is also difficult, compared to most TV, but is significantly more romantic than the novel was, and thus more approachable. That had to be expected -- you can read for irony and commentary on a society's violent transformation into modernity, but when you watch television (or movies for that matter) you are watching real people, and you have to at some level care for them and wish them to be happy.
Thus it matters that Benedict Cumberbatch as the somewhat priggish Edwardian intellectual, Christopher Tietjens, is an actor we like and care about (from Sherlock). It matters that Rebecca Hall as the manipulative and selfish straying wife of Tietjens, Sylvia, is an actress we've liked in other things playing characters we like (say, in the indie movie Starter for 10, of Ben Affleck's The Town)... it means that her villainess will be given something of the benefit of the doubt as being more than two-dimensional. It matters that Adelaide Clemens as the ingenue of the piece, the youthful suffragette, Valentine Wannop, is young and beautiful and radiates a quality I might as well call "niceness" -- we want her to be happy with Christopher in the end. All good television makes us care about the characters, even when they're ultimately villains -- see the last season of Breaking Bad. And even good shows jump the shark when you stop really caring about the characters -- I think, for instance, that Mad Men has made Don Draper too unlikeable in the past couple of seasons.
This isn't the deepest cultural commentary ever, but that doesn't mean it's not true. Sometimes the simplest reaction is the best -- you really only want to spend time with people you like.
Anyway, I thought Ms. Clemens was terrific, and the whole show was one of the best things we've seen in awhile. (By way of contrast, the writing on this show by Tom Stoppard makes the writing on Downton Abbey look like it was done by... well, by people who aren't Tom Stoppard.) Here she is in civvies.