Period drama wars: BBC hits back after Downton

Sep 20, 2011

We started on Stoppard’s version of Parade’s End before Downton Abbey was ever heard of, BBC protests

THE TRIUMPHANT return of ITV's drama serial Downton Abbey at the weekend - it hammered BBC1's Spooks in the ratings and picked up four Emmys in Los Angeles - has not gone unnoticed at the Corporation.

Yesterday saw the announcement of the BBC's future TV projects, and one of the glittering jewels on offer is an adaptation with HBO of Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End, a quartet of novels set in Edwardian England around the First World War.

In common with Downton, scripted by Baron (Julian) Fellowes of West Stafford, Parade's End boasts an Oscar-winning writer, Sir Tom Stoppard, and a stellar cast of British acting talent including Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall, Roger Allam, Anne-Marie Duff, Rupert Everett and Miranda Richardson.

According to the BBC, Parade's End is 'a five-part drama set during a formative period of British history - "from the twilight years of the Edwardian era to the end of the First World War". The script remains faithful to Ford's original books, but has "a lot of Stoppardian wit and cleverness", its executive producer Damien Timmer said.

While the timing of its commission may raise a few eyebrows, the team behind it are adamant that they had planned to make the series before Downton-mania had set in.

"I can honestly say that we started off doing this great big story about Edwardian England going into the First World War before any of us had ever heard about Downton Abbey," Timmer protested yesterday.

Ben Stephenson, head of BBC drama, said Parade's End was a "big, classic work of fiction and a million miles from Downton Abbey. Just because things are set in a similar period doesn't mean that they are the same".

Parade's End is Stoppard's first work for television since his 1998 take on Raymond Chandler's unfinished last novel, Poodle Springs. Filming began at the start of September and the series is set for a 2012 release.

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