Brideshead Revisited (12A)



Drama (2008)
132mins UK

Starring: Matthew Goode, Ben Whishaw, Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon, Hayley Atwell, Felicity Jones, Greta Scacchi, Patrick Malahide
Director: Julian Jarrold
Writer(s): Jeremy Brock, Andrew Davies
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Shy, middle-class student Charles Ryder arrives at Oxford University, where young men of privilege waltz around the quads in a drunken stupor as if they truly belong there. After a somewhat inglorious first encounter with Sebastian Flyte vomiting through his bedroom window, Charles is invited to join the aristocrat's inner circle, forging an intimate bond with this fey and fragile young man. Sebastian invites his new friend to the childhood estate, Brideshead, where Charles meets the formidable Lady Marchmain and falls under the spell of Sebastian's sister Julia.

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LondonNet Film Review
Brideshead Revisited

There's one very good reason why Evelyn Waugh's magnum opus has never been adapted for the big screen before. ITV's lavish and critically adored 1981 mini-series, which held viewers spell-bound for 11 glorious hours, explored the book's tortured emotions in such fine detail that a two-hour distillation of all that longing and regret has always seemed rather pointless...

Brideshead Revisited. Nicola Dove. Copyright 2007 Miramax Films. All Rights Reserved. Unperturbed, director Julian Jarrold and scriptwriters Jeremy Brock and Andrew Davies collaborate on this chocolate box interpretation which follows its predecessor's lead by shooting on location at Castle Howard in Yorkshire. Production designer Alice Normington captures the changing moods of the '20s, '30s and '40s against breathtaking backdrops in northern and southern England, Marrakech and Venice. Costumes, hair and make-up are impeccable, beautifully photographed by cinematographer Jess Hall, who distinguishes each period with different colour palettes and lighting. Visually, at least, this Brideshead Revisited takes the breath away. Alas, the script barely makes our hearts flutter let alone skip a beat. Waugh's sprawling saga of doomed love across class and religious divides begins with army officer Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) reminiscing about his turbulent past.

As a shy, middle-class student at Oxford University, Charles is taken under the wing of cousin Jasper (Richard Teverson), who warns him against fraternising with lushes like Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw): "Sodomites, all of them. Stay well clear!" Curiosity piqued, Charles accepts an invitation to join the aristocrat's inner circle, forging an intimate bond with the fey, fragile student, who describes himself as "the family shadow". Sebastian invites his new friend to the childhood estate, Brideshead, where Charles meets the formidable Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson) and Sebastian's sister Julia (Hayley Atwell). The two young men grow close, culminating in a brief kiss, but a trip to Italy to visit Sebastian and Julia's father, Lord Marchmain (Michael Gambon), and his mistress (Greta Scacchi), kindles a betrayal that will drive apart Charles and the prodigal Flyte son forever.

Brideshead Revisited. Nicola Dove. Copyright 2007 Miramax Films. All Rights Reserved. Brideshead Revisited never escapes the shadow of the television series, condensing Waugh's text into a simplistic menage a trois, riven by Catholic guilt. Goode is too restrained as the tragically naive interloper, internalizing Charles's anguish so deeply it barely registers as the house of Marchmain crumbles to its foundations. In contrast, Whishaw is terrific, powerfully conveying the emotional devastation as Sebastian succumbs to alcoholism and self-loathing. He tugs the heartstrings during a final meeting with Charles in Morocco, confiding sadly, "I asked too much of you. I knew it all along really. Only God can give you that kind of love." Thompson imposes herself upon the role of Lady Marchmain, walking a fine line between icy and resolute as her matriarch sacrifices the children at the altar of her faith. The screenwriters meanwhile sacrifice too many peripheral characters and textual subtleties to make this Brideshead truly an affair to remember.

- Sam Cannon


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