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Televsion review

In HBO’s ‘Parade’s End,’ the winds of change

Benedict Cumberbatch has an extraordinary name, but an even more extraordinary face. The superb new miniseries “Parade’s End” takes place in England before and during World War I, but it also takes place on Cumberbatch’s captivating physiognomy. His features are boyish, guarded, hyper-vigilant, like an innocent 4-year-old meeting his first giant dog. His upper lip is stiff — a perfect attribute for this story about an emotionally stifled Brit — and yet oddly expressive, with an elegant curl that can make the smallest bend signify joy. In a single scene, with only small facial shifts, he can transform from noble, to awkward, to cruel, to broken, and back.

The HBO miniseries confirms what those who’ve seen PBS’s “Sherlock” and “Masterpiece” miniseries such as “To the Ends of the Earth” probably already know: Cumberbatch is a remarkable actor. He can quietly project the inner turmoil that more animated actors can only mimic. In the five-hour “Parade’s End,” Cumberbatch’s brainy aristocrat Christopher Tietjens rarely states what he’s feeling, and yet we always know exactly where he stands. Christopher is wedded to the rigid denial, manners, and virtue that will not survive the Edwardian era. His last name is pronounced TEE-gins, emphasizing decorum (tea) over high spirits (gin).

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