Not quite fit for "Downton"-level frenzy, this BBC co-production has a more languid appeal and at least one unmissable performance in its slow march from the gardens and boudoirs of British society to the bloody trenches of the Great War.
Directed by Susanna White ("Generation Kill") and written by Tom Stoppard from Ford Madox Ford's novels, the show stars Benedict Cumberbatch ("Sherlock") as Christopher Tietjens, an aristocratic government statistician committed to upholding fast-fading notions of honor, duty, God and country.
Married to the cruel, promiscuous Sylvia (Rebecca Hall, the unmissable one), Tietjens pines for the young suffragette Valentine (Adelaide Clemens) with whom he once shared a near-kiss on a misty morning.
Whether fighting for an ideal England that he believes is history or enduring the reputation of a cuckold, Tietjens perfectly embodies Ford's long-suffering good soldier.
"I stand for monogamy," he pronounces at one point. "Monogamy and chastity."
Neither of which is nearly as entertaining as the captivating Sylvia, who energizes "Parade's End" with every sneer, barb and knife twist.
"He's making corrections in the 'Encyclopedia Britannica!'" she scoffs, after tossing a plate to startle her doodling husband. "If I'd killed him no jury would convict!"
Best known for her supporting role in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," Hall is a marvel here, at once vicious and vulnerable. We're on her side from the first episode, when she casually dismisses her doting, possibly suicidal dolt of a lover.
"Oh Potty, I do hope you're not going to behave badly," she sighs. "I miss my husband. He's a block of wood, but it's like being with a grown-up man rather than trying to entertain a schoolboy.
"I say, you're not going to kill yourself, are you, Potty?"
"Parade's End" debuts at 9 p.m. Tuesday on HBO.
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