In the dying days of Edwardian England, English aristocrat Christopher Tietjens (Benedict Cumberbatch) finds himself marrying Sylvia (Rebecca Hall), a beautiful but cruel socialite who is pregnant with a child who may or may not be his. Christopher is determined to remain loyal to his wife, but his life is transformed the day he meets Valentine Wannop (Adelaide Clemens), a fearless young suffragette. Moving from the glittering yet shallow world of London high society to the trench-scarred battlefields of France, feature is the story of one of the defining eras of the last century; a time when old certainties are being torn down and lives are changed forever.
Most costume dramas get the clothes and cars/carriages pretty well right but almost everything else wrong. (Call it Downton Abbey Syndrome). They ignore the crucial point that in the past people not only dressed differently but in certain ways walked, talked, thought and even felt differently, being governed by different moral and social imperatives. Here Benedict Cumberbatch, in perhaps his finest role to date, plays Tietjens, an utterly honourable and honest man with deeply old-fashioned convictions, caught up in a tangle in which he comes to seem the exact opposite. Tietjens exhibits less stiff upper lip than highly starched forehead. Cumberbatch's brilliant performance is matched by Rebeca Hall's as Sylvia, his glamorously promiscuous wife wife who, despite everything, is a devout Catholic. Completing the triangle is Valentine Wallop, marvellously played by Adelaide Clemens, a militant suffragette whom Tietjens really loves although almost everything conceivable thwarts their love until the very end. Other parts are played equally convincingly - and yes, the cars and clothes are okay too. Tom Stoppard has adapted Ford Maddox Ford's great tetralogy with typical flair and brilliance. Watch it as an antidote to the pap normally on offer.