In fact Widmerpool could be an object of sympathy if he weren't such an odious character who exacts petty revenges for slights both real and imagined whenever he has the opportunity. Unfortunately, the rest of the characters never take him seriously enough; their snobbery keeps him in the role of "that odious little man" and an object of ridicule, while he plots and schemes his way to the top, literally burying as many of them as possible on his way.
Of course it's a woman who is Widmerpool's downfall. Pamela Filton (played to perfection by Miranda Richardson) is the femme fatale to end all femme fatales. She does some sort of secretive work for British intelligence during the War, and brings about the downfall of those who get in her way. It seems only fitting that she and Widmerpool end up together and… well, I'm not going to give away all the secrets.
Although the script is well written (I can't imagine what a chore it must have been to condense twelve volumes into only six hours of television and still make it as coherent a script as was presented here), and the direction is adroit with never a shot wasted or too much time taken on any one scene, what really elevates A Dance To The Music Of Time above anything you'll ever see on North American television are the performances. When Sir John Gielgud is playing what amounts to a walk-on role you know that the rest of the cast is bound to be superlative, if only not to be outshone by a cameo.
Simon Russell Beale plays Widmerpool as such an odious toad that there's no way you're going to feel any pity for him even if everybody laughs in his face continually; you just can't help believing he deserves every slight sent his way. As I said earlier he is only matched by Miranda Richardson's performance as his eventual wife and worst nightmare. If ever there were a dream couple from hell, these two do a magnificent job of portraying them, never once overdoing it, but always going right to the edge, which makes both their characters believable and the most fun to watch.