Driving a Ford Madox Ford renaissance

Laurence Inman extols the joy of quality writing and film making.

It’s been an interesting week for stuff on the telly; anyway very encouraging for those, like me, who know there was never un age d’or of drama and comedy. If you doubt this, look at some old tapes of Monty Python or Brideshead Revisited. The first is under-rehearsed, tedious, repetitive tosh. In the second, the production values would shame a first-year film-studies student.

Parades EndTom Stoppard’s rendering of Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End is, so far, majestic. All the acting prizes will go to the usual suspects, but I urge you to watch especially closely Stephen Graham, who plays Macmaster. He was in the first episode of Jimmy McGovern’s Accused. Sean Bean has said he only took the main role so that he could work with Graham. He is one of a small band of perfect actors who never, even for a second, look as if they’re acting. You never see the machinery going round. He’s up there with Gary Oldman and the late Colin Blakely.

Parade’s End is four novels: Some Do Not…., No More Parades, A Man Could Stand Up – and The Last Post. You can get them all together in Penguin Modern Classics.

Ford is a great writer. Despite the obvious claimants, I can’t see The Good Soldier as anything but the best novel of the last century. His writing lives on in the mind, grows and matures until you understand, later, why something happened as it did, why a character had to say a certain word. ‘We had the experience but missed the meaning.’ Eliot’s lines holds for literature, as well as life.

Above all, he tells the truth. Bad people can still be bad, even if they don’t do bad things. People who do evil are not necessarily evil in themselves. Motives are always opaque; people can sometimes throw their lives away, on the flimsiest of pretexts, know that they’re doing it and still do it. ‘Love’ is the greatest mystery.

His style is often indirect, elliptical even, like his near-contemporary, Conrad. I am hoping that this dramatization will lead to a Ford revival and a re-awakening of interest in English writers who were clearly affected by him.

Of which, more next week.

You can watch Episode 1 of Parade’s End on the BBC iPlayer here