We watched the first episode of BBC TV bench-mark autumn drama yesterday evening. It’s a dramatisation, by Tom Stoppard, of Ford Maddox Ford’s four-volume set, Parade’s End. It’s got an all-star cast and everyone has those distinctive bee-sting lips. No expense has been spared.
The story covers the same sort of territory as ITVs Downton, but in a more complex, intelligent and adult way – they get out of the house more. There’s the backdrop of WW1, the politics of female emancipation and all the upheaval that follows. It’s clear, from the first, that the class distinctions of Edwardian society are so rigid as to be stuck…from then on, things will have to change!
Maddox Ford was a member of the literary avant-garde and a fully paid-up member of late 19C London bohemia. You can find out about the films and about Maddox Ford on-line.
The books provide an early example of stream of consciousness writing and belong firmly in the modernist camp. Quite a lot of the story is set on Romney Marsh and surrounds in Kent and East Sussex. Later, we’ll get to the western front.
It’s always exciting to recognise local places…in fact, Maddox Ford lived locally to us and was friends with HG Wells, Joseph Conrad and Henry James etc. He probably knew Paul Nash, the artist, who lived down the road. The books, in their contemporary and paperback form, have covers with reproductions of Nash’s famous WW1 paintings on them.
The history of London’s bohemian elite during the 19C is linked to the development of new houses and new ways of living – Holland Park, Chelsea, Bedford Park and Hamstead have all had their moment. East Kent was colonised by the the actress Ellen Terry and her entourage. They chose this part of the world because it was within easy reach of London by train.
I noticed that, this morning, the Daily Mail had made a bit of a song-and-dance about how the BBC film began with two sexually explicit scenes in the first six minutes (who’s watching the clock?) In fact, these were important scenes that established the emotional instability of the female lead. This instability expressed itself in a variety of ways, including through her blatant promiscuity.
I was interested that, for the purposes of the film, the major protagonists first meet in a railway carriage. The smouldering potential of their encounter is set up with a number of shots of the train – including steam and pumping engine!
Just like in La Bete Humaine. Similarly, it’s understood that things that begin in this way will always end in tears.
The film also used a broken mirror in a number of shots. This produced a very effective fragmentation of image and reflection. This conjured up all sorts of connections to cubism, movement and dynamism. Like the hall of mirrors scene at the end of Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai, this kind of visual dislocation is a sure sign of trouble ahead!
It was rather encouraging, nevertheless, to see my various posts about the psychoanalytical interpretation of railways made explicit in images of Parade’s End.