Ford Maddox Ford on “the Gentle Tory”
David Priestland had a fascinating but flawed take on Tom Stoppard’s take on FMF’s take on the Tory type (The Gentle Tory is alive and well – on television). Actually, I say, the BBC drama is unsurprisingly BBC-ish, but with valuable quirks. Its adaptor may be rightish, but the BBC’s leftishness can live with this show pretty well.
For David Priestland the BBC’s rendition of Parade’s End is an example of a country and culture, and especially its conservatives, running for cover in the face of a failure by the merchant classes. They seek a nostalgic, landed Tory squirearchy sort of a figure. Instead, he suggests, the lesson they should draw comes from Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony of the Olympics, and the Social Democrats.
He accepts, I think, that FMF’s hero, Christopher Tietjens, is on a journey: stuffy, buttoned-up and racist (that last bit may be in the book not the TV series) and encounters with war and feminism open him up. So where we are now, early in the series, is hardly conclusive.
But surely Priestland misses the big point here. It is quite possible that Stoppard likes complicated, awkward Tories, or finds them interesting. And the BBC can like the whole Parade’s End enterprise, even with Stoppardian (slightly rightish) spins, because it is one long riff on the difficulties Toryism finds itself in. Tietjens is some sort of noble Tory, even at the beginning of the series. But he is a Tory out of step with his class and type. He is at odds with the sordid facts of Tory and wider power structures. So in Tietjens (the BBC’s commissioners can suppose) we see the man David Cameron might have aspired to be had he the courage to be awkward instead of smooth. Tietjens may not be the ideal that modern Tories should aspire to, but – the BBC can enjoy saying – they are certainly failing the characterful nobility – the authenticity – which Tietjens exemplifies.
In short, David Priestland doesn’t to have worry that the BBC’s gone soft. It’s not banging the drum in the way it did when it did FMF in the 1960’s, but its message now is just as difficult for Tory voters.
Nor actually, are serious Tories running for cover. The fundamentals of the intelligent right-wing are in place and gaining ground.