Friday, March 3, 2017

Parade's End ... the Cumberbinge continues

Wow! I just did something I've never done before. I had this post all written and done, save for the final polishing. But somehow (well, I know how - a combination of a new computer and switching between Mac and PC  keyboard commands) managed to highlight the whole and hit the delete key. Gone. For some reason I couldn't undo and of course, due to auto saving and the fact that I'm typing it online (dummy!), it was too late; the save was in, and the post was gone.

One to always imagine that things happen for a reason, I'm going to approach this event as more of an opportunity than a loss.

You see, truth is, I wasn't really all that happy with my post. It was brilliant, of course, but probably a bit too scathing. I sometimes think about this after I skewer a production (which really isn't all that often).  I mean, people do work hard on these things, and it must be a bummer that everyone's a critic.

My *poof, gone* post found a lot to hate and just a few things to like about Parade's End.  To me it was a disappointment.  I will stand by that. The gods may have given me another chance to think about what I say publicly, but I'm not going to re-evaluate my thoughts entirely.  Maybe I'll just cut it a bit nicer.

Here, in a nutshell, is what I said, far more eloquently, before:

The best thing about the production, hands down, is the cinematography. Sumptuous. Second would be the period details, especially the clothing; everything, from cars and telephones, to furniture, manor houses and roads is just so transporting. The visuals give a rich distinct flavor of a highly engaging time.

The rest? milquetoast at best. The plot, continuity, character arcs and (sigh) even acting were non-starters.

My cruel hunch is that this work was probably only put into production in response to the smashing success of another (much better) Edwardian era drama - Downton Abbey. I think the latter's success must have had something to do with Parade's End finding an audience that cared enough to watch, and enthusiastic enough to reward it with an IMDB rating of a 7.7, when it probably deserves something more in the 6 to 7 range.

Parade's End isn't terrible. (There, I guess this is a concession born of second chances). It's just not good drama. Good drama should have something to teach us; something to say. I really don't know what that is here.  And I don't know wherein the fault lies. I never read the book. (Yes, there's a book. Oh I forgot the year and the author --- do I have to go look that up again?  I think 1924 and the author was someone with 3 names where the first and third were the same. Like Forest Sawyer Forest. Yes, lets just go with that.)

I understand that the man taxed with writing the screenplay for Parade's End is highly acclaimed, so we'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the novel was just mediocre. (I mean Mr. Forest probably died 60 some years ago, I don't think his feelings will be hurt if we assign blame there). And, honestly, that probably is where blame needs to go. There is just so much plot detail that doesn't make sense in this piece. There are so many characters that change direction (back and forth) too often and for too little reason. No real continuity.

Oh! in the post I deleted you would have been delighted with my musings on Sylvia and her bizarre choices. How she changes motivating purpose at the drop of a hat and acts in a way distinctly at odds with what she claims she wants. But its not just Sylvia. Christopher's brother, played by Rupert Everett is another character who floats groundlessly along with the whim of whatever scene his is in at the moment. Is he hateful? Oh, no, loving. Whoops, hateful again. Makes no sense. And its not just the characters; but some plot developments are just way too convenient and/or over the top. I'm thinking about cancer, and the chopping down of trees, and relationships with commanding officers. The whole thing feels like a soap opera sometimes.

To the extent there is a plot here, it seems to turn almost entirely on the idea of adultery. While I gladly admit that adultery can be quite interesting (think English Patient), here it seems most an excuse to seem daring or confrontational. Characters are always hissing words like "mistress" around like daggers. What is odd is that the effect of the dagger seems to change constantly.

And although the ending is rather artistically done (from the standpoint of cinematography) we are denied a real moment of passion and resolution that we'd been waiting for while slogging though 5 hours of this. Unacceptable. Near the end, I kept anxiously watching the bar at the bottom of the screen for the remaining time and thinking: "come on now, we're running out of time! Get to a love scene! They managed to squeeze in the tiniest bit of resolution. But NOT satisfying.

And, oh, it pains me to say this but I can't think of any other period drama with such a lack of attractive male characters. Even dramas that are clearly geared toward men, like idk, Fury, still manage to have male characters that are appealing/sexy.  Here -- and please know how much I love Benedict Cumberbatch -- all we really get is Christopher.  Cumberbatch plays him with a weak chin, marbly mouth and doughy persona. It makes him a great actor. It does not make him a very appealing leading man.

Christopher's older brother Mark played by Rupert Everett - another really sexy guy in real life - is covered in facial hair and exhibits no charm. There is really no one else even worth mentioning. Especially in a picture that seems ostensibly to be about lust, don't you think they could have sexed up the male roles a bit?

Ultimately, it comes down to me not caring about these characters. Or at least not enough to invest 5 hours of my time on them. I would not recommed the production. The only reason I watched was that the Cumberbatch-itch needed to be scratched. And even though he was not particularly appealing here, you can't hide that charisma entirely away! There was enough of it peeking out to wait and see what happened. Now that I know what happens, it really wasn't worth it.