Parade's End: 'brainier and sexier than Downton Abbey'
But will it be so much fun? Anticipation builds as critics give new BBC series the thumbs-up
A NEW BBC2 mini-series starting this Friday, Parade's End, is already causing a stir – not least because it boasts two sex scenes in the first six minutes, one of them featuring the actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall (above) "breathlessly panting and grappling" in a railway carriage.
The big question is – will the new series win over the Downton Abbey crowd? Or will Downton have the last laugh in the "phwoar wars", as Rachel Johnson suggests in the Daily Mail, because the lack of sex in Downton is what makes it "both tantalising and something all the family can watch".
Parade's End is a BBC/HBO co-production, adapted by Sir Tom Stoppard from Ford Maddox Ford's four-part modernist novel.
Stoppard's first major TV work for almost 30 years, it is one of the most expensive costume dramas ever made in recent years for BBC TV, with a budget of more than £12 million.
Parade's End explores the twilight years of the Edwardian era, concluding with the end of the First World War. Cumberbatch, best known for Sherlock, plays Christopher Tietjens, a principled statistician who is betrayed by his socialite wife (Rebecca Hall) before falling in love with a suffragette. A stellar cast also includes Stephen Graham, Rupert Everett, Miranda Richardson, Rufus Sewell and Anne-Marie Duff.
Previews suggest Stoppard's adaptation is a winner. Johnson in the Mail says: "I was hooked". Referring to the series as "Downton for adults", she says Parade's End is "lavish, beautifully shot, crisply directed".
On BBC Radio 4's Saturday Review programme, Cahal Dallat said the series doesn't bear comparison to Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs, which are "soap opera in fancy clothes". Parade's End, he said, is "a wonderfully moving account of Britain at a moment of major change". It also has "a good Tory in it", said Dallat, "which is something worth watching".
On the same programme, Maeve Kennedy said that she was concerned at first that the lavish opening scenes displayed the same kind of "heritage porn" as Downton Abbey. She was relieved when the show started showing the old values breaking down.
The Radio Times says that "with a script by Tom Stoppard, you'd expect delicious dialogue and we get it." We also get a feast of minor characters, comic set pieces and nostalgia which Stoppard "marshals into a gorgeous package".
The TV Times gives the mini-series five stars, saying "the Cumberbatch-Hall dynamic is remarkable".
The only reservation comes from Johnson in the Mail who wonders if Parade's End loses something by showing a lot more sex than Downton.
Parade's End, Johnson adds, might be "twice as grown-up and three times as brainy as Downton – but probably only half as much fun". ·