Interview With Tom Stoppard
What was it about the Ford Madox Ford novels that made you want to write the miniseries of "Parade's End?"
It was the milieu. I can't say I feel at home in it, because I'm not an upper class English gentleman. But the world of the upper classes before the First World War is an attractive genre. So here were four books about the same characters in English society between 1908 and 1918. It's a Modernist novel - not a linear book.
Then was one of your tasks to make it more linear and visual?
Yes, I decided I had to make it linear - also I don't think I could have understood the book myself until I made it linear and broke it down to understand what happened in what order. That was a challenge but it was also a challenge to turn it into a drama. The book is full of marvelous stuff but it's happening in the characters' heads. Very often there wasn't a dramatic situation, let alone a dramatic momentum. It was wonderful to read but one had to invent a lot of concrete situations for this dialogue to live in.
Can you give an example?
I had to turn to historical events to give myself a dramatic context. One example is the feminist suffragette who slashed the Velasquez painting in the National Gallery. That actually happened - a woman called Mary Robinson. Another example is the publication of a notorious book by Dr. Marie Stopes, a feminist who understood more clearly than anyone of that generation that a lot of marriages were unhappy due to sexual ignorance. I introduced that book into Valentine's world.
There is a good deal of physical comedy - rambunctious sex scenes - and then there's the scatological Reverend Duchemin- is that you or Ford?
Yes, the Reverend Duchemin and his obscene Latin references - that is Ford. But I was able to be more explicit than Ford was able to be in his time. It's funny. I became so obsessed with these characters that years later I've become confused about what I invented and what I didn't. I'm thinking - did I invent him cutting his wrists in the bath or not? There's a lot of mixture between historical fact, what Ford invented, and what I invented. The whole thing became mixed up together in my mind.
For those who may not be as familiar with what this time meant for Britain, can you give a little background about the times and the specific dilemma Christopher find himself in, vis-à-vis Toryism?
I think Christopher, as a representative of Toryism is a little extreme, even by standards of Victorian England. He was just slightly a bit of a joke. But on the other hand, something I easily recognized and had a lot of sympathy for, was that essentially, he's someone who's out of step with his own society because society has started to let go of a code of honor. I think possibly every generation thinks the same thing of its own generation. It wasn't true only then. But when the war comes, the ground shifts underneath him and society changes in a way that nothing else could have changed it. When he's walking through the street with his brother and the trucks are going past, he makes this awful remark. It's a pivot point for him and he says: "When you live by an outmoded code of behavior people take you to be a fool. And I'm coming around to their opinion."
Some of the British press have suggested that this version of "Parade's End" takes a nostalgic look at Toryism and Tietjens is more sympathetic than Ford intended. Do you agree?
I think that's probably true. The aftertaste of the novel is that it's time for that society to die. And perhaps the aftertaste of this dramatization is that maybe something valuable has been lost.
How would you describe the central tragedy of "Parade's End?"
It is a love triangle, as well as anything else. It's about a married man who meets a young girl and falls in love with her and by his own code, he can do nothing about it. And then by the time he's experienced and witnessed what society is when it's in uniform and being blown into a thousand pieces by high explosive shells - he comes to the realization that the society he believes in is fragile and can be demolished. Literally. But also its values can be rendered meaningless by these vast acts of violence in war. Sorry - it all gets a bit thick doesn't it? It's certainly a romance and it's a human comedy in many ways too. But I like thinking of it as a love story.
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