HBO launches the five-part series “Parade’s End” at 9 p.m. tonight. The co-production with the BBC is based on Ford Madox Ford’s series of books about the lives of the ruling class during World War I. The scripts have been adapted to television by British playwright Tom Stoppard (“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”).
The premium cable series stars Benedict Cumberbatch (“War Horse”) as Christopher Tietjens, a man dealing with a failing marriage during a time of great unrest in the world. Cumberbatch talked about being part of the cable production during the television critics tour.
QUESTION: How daunting is it to say Tom Stoppard’s words?
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: I imagine the comparison would be to extraordinary pieces of classical music. There’s a perfection. As much as there is a movement and an ability to interpret music, there’s this extraordinary structure and form to it.
Q: What can you reveal about your character?
BC: Christopher is a man with a huge heart and empathy for those near to him, and of all position and status and importance in his life, whether it be a wet nurse’s, his son who may or may not be his son, his wife, his love of this new woman and his men in war, he’s a very generous, big hearted sentimental man who Ford describes in the books as being one to cry to a piece of music or art.
Q: How does Christopher compare to playing Sherlock Holmes?
BC: He’s very sensitive in comparison to the Sherlock, so there’s an emotional depth or resonance that’s very different in that regard. Far more sociopathic. He, like Sherlock, doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He carves his way through mediocrity. He’s witty and acerbic, and it may not always be an angel, but he’s definitely on the side of angels. He fights a very good fight, in my opinion. He’s a heroic character.
Q: You filmed in some actual battlefields. How did that help your performance?
BC: It was a very powerful thing to be there. I was fortunate enough to go over there a little bit early just to walk around and walk through Ypres and look at the men engaged in just the most extraordinary stories that came out of my experiences speaking to historians there, and it’s very strange. You stand there, and you think “At least I’ve got the sky in common. That’s something to hold onto. They would have looked at the same sky.” Then when you go into the trench, you are stepping into a bit of dug earth which is the same depth as your grave.
Q: This has been a big year for you from “Parade’s End” to “Sherlock.” How does it feel?
BC: It’s been a wonderful year, a wonderful couple of years. It’s been extraordinary. Embarrassment of riches is the headline. A real embarrassment of riches.