It must be my hazy memory of Ford Madox Ford’s saga Parade’s End that made the experience of watching the BBC adaptation this weekend so awesome. I read Ford’s sprawling elegy for “Englishness” once upon a time for my PhD Special Field exams, and also to fortify my critical interpretation of The Good Soldier for one of my thesis chapters.
I mean, there’s only so much a 5-hour miniseries can do with four fat novels, right? And as lead actor Benedict Cumberbatch said in an interview, these aren’t just any old novels, either. They’re crazy experiments in modernist storytelling techniques like shifting point of view, stream of consciousness and wild jumps in time.
So what does the BBC do with all this narrative virtuosity? Well, they hire Tom Stoppard to write the screenplay. They hire Cumberbatch to play Christopher Tietjens–who looks nothing like the man as described by Ford but brings all of his considerable talent and his charmingly wobbly lower lip into the service of Tietjen’s soulsickness. These two choices take the show most of the way towards a great adaptation. Not all the way, but most of it.