After a 30-year absence, the prolific playwright Sir Tom Stoppard is set to return to the BBC with Paradeâs End, a five-part drama adapted from a quartet of novels by Ford Madox Ford. Part funded by HBO and with a reported budget of Â£12 million, the miniseries is rumoured to be the most expensive production ever broadcast on BBC Two, but like many other recent British dramas, the story takes place around the First World War.
Sherlockâs Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Christopher Tietjens, a conservative English gentleman trying to contend with his unruly, adulterous wife at the centre of the piece and despite his fame on these shores, when the Beeb suggested him to American producers, they took some convincing.
âThere was really on a tiny handful of people that we felt could play him,â? Susanna White, the director of the upcoming series explains. âAnd Benedict just seemed so right to us.â?
“This was a couple of years ago though and HBO weren’t sure who he was. They took some persuading’. We said, âTrust us, heâs a truly great actor, and by the time Paradeâs End has come out everyone will have heard of him”.
Sherlock has since gained much attention in the States and his roles in the new Star Trek film and The Hobbit haven’t done his profile in America much harm either. âOf course, now everyone over there has heard of him,â? she adds with a wry smile.
According to Stoppard, the series has been in the works since 2008, long before Downtown Abbey helped revamp the costume drama. Viewers are likely to draw comparisons between to the two programmes, although Stoppard admits that heâs largely unaware of Downton Abbey and indeed modern TV in general.
âI watch it sporadically,â? he says. âI canât say thereâs anything where I arrange to be at home at the same hour on the same day every week. I wrote Paradeâs End in the same spirit as I write stage plays.â?
The biggest influence on the upcoming series, Stoppard says, has been Ford Madox Fordâs source material, which was recommended to him by a friend with the possibility of adapting it for television.
âI started reading it and pretty damn quickly I really wanted the job,â? he explains. âItâs a tremendously unputdownable book, but you have to come to its aid when youâre adapting it into a television play.â?
Fordâs books were published between 1924 and 1928, but fell out of fashion. The five-part television adaptation will likely fuel a renewed interest in the authorâs work.
âThe structure of the book is not linear, nor does it fall into five equal parts. Thereâs a lot of interesting stuff going on without it necessarily having a dramatic momentum. So there are a lot of things I got from source books and we were using stuff which wasnât in the novel at all.â?
In addition to Cumberbatchâs appearance, the TV adaptation will also feature performances from Rebecca Hall as Tietjensâ (pronounced TEE’jens) adulterous wife, and Adelaide Clemens as Valentine, a spirited suffragette who falls in love with Tietjens.
Explaining how Adelaide was cast, Susanna White says: âWe ran through a few scenes over Skype and then she wanted the part so badly she flew to London to audition in person.â?
You can catch a glimpse of Parade’s End in the BBC’s latest Drama Reel..