Brideshead Revisited


Directed by: Julian Jarrold
Written by:Andrew Davies, Jeremy Brock
Starring: Matthew Goode, Ben Whishaw, Hayley Atwell, Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon
Released: October 23, 2008
Grade: B

Brideshead Revisited is based on the novel written by Evelyn Waugh.  This isn’t the first time that it has been adapted.   In 1981, an 11 part television mini-series was produced by Granada Television.  It starred Jeremy Irons, Diana Quick and Roger Milner.  I never saw it myself but it must have been pretty good.  It won a Golden Globe Award and a BAFTA Award for best television movie.

I guess you could call this new movie the “abbreviated version” of Waugh’s lengthy book.  It has been condensed into 133 minutes by screenwriters Andrew Davies (Bridget Jones’ Diary) and Jeremy Brock (The Last King Of Scotland).  Again, I haven’t read the novel, but I was fairly impressed with what I saw on screen.  There was ample time for both plot and character development.  I’d be curious to know what was left on the cutting room floor.

The central character is Charles Ryder (Goode) and the story is set in England in the years leading up to World War II.  Charles’s mother died when he was young and he now lives with his father in a small flat in Paddington.  Their relationship is rather peculiar and they share few words.  Despite his low-class background, Charles has set himself some high ambitions and is about to leave home for the first time.  He’s off to Oxford University to study history.  His real love, however, is for art.

At Oxford, Charles is befriended by Sebastian Flyte (Whishaw), a flamboyant individual who loves to drink.  Sebastian comes from a very wealthy upbringing.  He lives with his sister and mother in an enormous castle known as Brideshead.  From the moment he lays eyes on it, Sebastian is entranced by its beauty.

Sebastian doesn’t like to talk about his family and Charles will soon learn why.  The Lady Marchmain (Thompson) is a devout Catholic who rules the household with an iron fist.  I’m not really sure how to describe her.  You could say that she’s a manipulator and that she uses religious as a weapon to control her children’s lives.  On the other hand, you could say she’s just a passionate believer in God and the Catholic Church.

This leads into what I liked about the movie and that is the “texture” of these characters.  None of them seem to say what they really think and as a result, this left me thinking.  What are these people really after and what is driving them?  Their true colours will be revealed when Charles’s friendship with Sebastian’s sister, Julia (Atwell), develops into something deeper.  It threatens to tear the family apart.

Whilst I enjoyed most of the film, my attention did wain during the closing stages.  The ending felt drawn out and there wasn’t much of an emotional impact (at least for me).  I was still impressed though by the great costumes and set decoration.  Fans of the book will definitely be interested but I’m not sure how much appeal it will have with other audiences.