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  Publicity Stills of
"Brideshead Revisited"
(Courtesy of Festive Films)

Director: Julian Jarrold
Cast: Matthew Goode, Ben Whishaw, Hayley Atwell, Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon
RunTime: 2 hrs 15 mins
Released By: Festive Films
Rating: M18 (Some Mature Content)
Official Website: http://bridesheadrevisited-themovie.com/

Opening Day: 30 October 2008


Adapted from one of the truly great works of fiction of the 20th century, Brideshead Revisited is a gorgeously romantic epic portraying a story of forbidden love and the loss of innocence.

Set in a golden age just before the Second World War when privileged aristocracy was falling into decline, this is the story of Charles Ryder’s infatuation with Julia Flyte, daughter of a aristocratic family.

As his world changes Charles will be made to save his best friend from self-destruction and fight the expectations of social and religious demands so he can conquer his true love.

Movie Review:

Oh how alluring, how tempting the ways of the high life, one taste all it takes to make one yearn for more.

Just ask Charles Ryder, the son of a middle-class family who experiences its lure when he enters Oxford University and meets Sebastian Flyte, the younger son of an aristocratic family who owns the sprawling Brideshead estate.

Set in the 1930s, Brideshead Revisited is the story of Charles’ subsequent entanglements with the Flyte family, led by the family matriarch Lady Marchmain. Charles and the ostensibly gay Sebastian share a passionate relationship, but upon visiting the magnificent and awe-inspiring Brideshead, Charles falls for Sebastian’s sister Lady Julia.

The literary classic by Evelyn Waugh on which this movie is based was hailed by Time Magazine as one of the all-time top 100 novels. Its first translation to screen was in the 1981 television miniseries which also won many accolades, most notable for Jeremy Irons’ nuanced portrayal of Charles Ryder.

But what the TV series accomplished over 11 episodes, this latest adaptation by Jeremy Brock and Andrew Davies tries to achieve within 2 hours. It is no easy feat, considering the many complex themes within the book. Sadly, this revisit is better off being respected for its ambition than for its merits.

Much of this has to do with the way that the screenwriting duo has chosen to condense the more difficult issues within the book. Perhaps as a nod to contemporary times, director Julian Jarrold’s adaptation spends considerable time developing Charles and Sebastian’s relationship, playing up its homosexual undertones.

The movie succeeds best at developing the passion between Charles and Sebastian and later on, Charles and Julia. And in this aspect, it is aided immeasurably by the compelling performances of Ben Whishaw and Hayley Atwell as Sebastian and Julia respectively. Their sibling characters steal almost every scene that they appear in.

Yet Brideshead Revisited is as much about their passion as it is about the contrast between the different classes in society. It is when the story begins to explore the motivations of Charles, the middle-class youth tempted by the luxuries of nobility that the movie begins to flounder. Did Charles actually fall in love with Sebastian? Is Charles’ desire to be with Lady Julia because of his love for her, or is he just after her wealth?

The answers to these questions of Charles’ identity in the book are juxtaposed with the conflict of religious beliefs between the Brideshead family and Charles. Indeed, one of its central motifs of the book is the Catholic faith, quite apt since the author was a convert to the faith. In Waugh’s tale, Ryder is an agnostic, a non-believer who sees the faith as a means by which Lady Marchmain oppresses her children as well as her now-estranged husband.

But Waugh’s intention was in no way to denounce the faith. Instead, he wanted to scrutinize the secularism of Ryder, and contrast his consequent lack of belonging to that of the family’s eventual discovery of the importance of religiosity. Unfortunately, the movie spends too much time setting up the harshness of Lady Marchmain’s strict Catholic upbringing towards her children that the enlightenment at the end feels forced and tacked on.

Indeed, this is the movie’s most fundamental flaw- that while being faithful to the book’s ending; it is nevertheless a pale shadow of the commentary that the book so eloquently makes. Matthew Goode is also no Jeremy Irons, his portrayal of the emotionally and spiritually confused Charles Ryder more bland than nuanced, more insipid than compelling.

By no means however, is Brideshead Revisited a bad film. Certainly, its production design is impeccable and its cast of young and veteran actors, especially Michael Gambon and Emma Thompson, a joy to watch. But its decision to take a literal reading of the text- by focusing on the love triangle between its characters- is definitely a disappointment given its sumptuous source material.

This Brideshead is still worth a visit if you’re not acquainted with it, but if you are, it’s certainly not worth a revisit.

Movie Rating:

(Best visited as an introduction to its far superior source material; but definitely unworthy as a revisit)

Review by Gabriel Chong


. The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

. Becoming Jane (2007)

. Atonement (2007)

. Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

. Love in the Time of Cholera (2007)

. No Country for Old Men (2007)

. Pride & Prejudice (2005)

. Alexander (2004)

. Wilde (1997)


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