Friday, August 22, 2008

Brideshead Revisited (Rhoades)

Revisiting ‘‘Brideshead Revisited’
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Back in 1981, people of literate tastes tuned to PBS to watch a British-made television miniseries called “Brideshead Revisited.” Based on a 1945 novel by Evelyn Waugh (he considered it his “magnum opus”), it is a period piece about a group of upperclass Brits at Brideshead, a large country estate in Yorkshire.
The television production starred such fine actors as Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews, Laurence Olivier, Claire Bloom, Diana Quick, Jane Asher, and John Gielgud.
My old friend Tom Wolfe (he was a contributor to Harper’s Magazine when I was associate publisher there) wrote that the series had been successful in the US because it was a “plutography” – that is, a graphic depiction of the lives of the rich.
Keep in mind, this was during the ’80s, a period designated by Wolfe as the Me Decade. And television was marked by such popular fare as “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and the fairy tale wedding of Charles and Diana.
The question: Are we ready – as the title implies – to revisit Brideshead? The answer apparently is “yes,” in that a new film version of “Brideshead Revisited” is currently at the Tropic Cinema.
Like the TV series, the film tells the story of forbidden love and a loss of innocence in pre-WWII England. It’s presented as the memoir of Captain Charles Ryder, a man drawn to the Brideshead estate and its resident Flyte family, especially Sebastian whom he meets at Oxford and sister Julia with whom he becomes infatuated.
This triangular relationship can be seen as a metaphor that reflects the decline of a decadent period in English history.
Of course, we have an entirely new cast: Matthew Goode (“Match Point”) as social climber Charles, Ben Whishaw (“Perfume: The Story of a Murderer”) as charming Sebastian, and Hayley Atwell (“Cassandra’s Dream”) as sophisticated Julia. Plus two-time Oscar-winner Emma Thompson (“Howard’s End,” “Sense and Sensibility”) as Lady Marchmain.
Directed by Julian Jarrold (“Becoming Jane”), it’s a brave attempt at trying to recapture magic in a bottle.
That’s a tall order. As one film fan put it, “It’s outrageous that its producers even bothered to do a new screen version of this drama ... since it would be nearly impossible to match the hosannas that surrounded the acclaimed TV miniseries.”
The original ranked tenth among the 100 Greatest British Television Programs in a list compiled by the British Film Institute. It even placed as seventh best Masterpiece Theater episode, even though it wasn’t actually part of that series, having been broadcast on PBS in its Great Performances telecasts.
Obviously trying to draw on the cachet of the TV series, the movie also used Castle Howard in North Yorkshire as the Brideshead location.
Time Magazine has included Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited” on its list of “All-Time 100 Novels.” And the TV miniseries is ranked by International Movie Database viewers as the 14th most popular film or television title set in the 1930s.
I doubt this remake will end up ranking that well among similar period films. In fact, a quick glance at IMDb shows it currently at 291. If you disagree, go to and cast your own vote. After all, this is an election year! [originally published in Solares Hill]

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