Inspired by the best-selling novel, the provocative and intense Brideshead Revisited is a riveting drama of forbidden love, power and betrayal, featuring stunning performances by Academy Award winner Emma Thompson (Best Actress, Howard’s End, 1992) and Matthew Goode (The Lookout). When the charming aristocrat Sebastian invites Charles Ryder to his family’s estate, Charles becomes seduced by the opulent lifestyle of the Marchmain family, and by Julia, Sebastian’s sister. As their romance deepens, repercussions follow, and Charles discovers at Brideshead, love, money and power come at a price. It’s a spellbinding story you’ll want to revisit again and again.
I don’t think I should watch movies about books that I like. Especially not if I’ve read it recently. I listened to the audiobook version of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, read by Jeremy Irons, a couple of months ago. It was a little slow, but I still liked it. It was one of those books where you know the characters made the right, moral choice, but it still makes you sad, because it results in their unhappiness.
Anyway, the makers of the film seem to have completely missed the point of the book. This is what Waugh said of Brideshead Revisited, according to Wikipedia:
Waugh wrote that the novel “deals with what is theologically termed ‘the operation of Grace’, that is to say, the unmerited and unilateral act of love by which God continually calls souls to Himself”.
I do think that the filmmakers completely missed the point. Brideshead is the story of Charles Ryder, a young man starting his first year of Oxford. He comes from a middle class family, but is immediately befriended by Sebastian Marchmain of Brideshead. In the book, it is implied that Sebastian has homosexual leanings, and that he feels that way about Charles, but that their relationship is one of close friendship. The hint is there, but as Charles is not gay, nothing happens.
Charles ends up becoming close to the whole family, and Lady Marchmain trusts Charles to help keep hard partying and drinking Sebastian out of trouble. Lady Marchmain is devoutly Catholic, as is her oldest son Bridie, and her youngest daughter, Cordelia. Sebastian and his sister Julia struggle with the strictures of their faith – Sebastian openly by drinking heavily and partying and having homosexual friends, and Julia internally.
I don’t want to give away any plot points, but a major part of the book is that Charles is an atheist and disdainful of the Marchmain’s faith, especially when he sees the pressure it puts on Sebastian and Julia. The book ends with an experience that gives Charles a change of heart.
That is the heart of the book, in my opinion, and in Waugh’s opinion, too, from what he wrote about Brideshead Revisited. It’s a point that the filmmakers seem to have completely missed.
That said, I still think the film was very well done. While the homoerotic storyline is a little more intense than in the book, it wasn’t explicit. The love story between Charle and Julia is compelling – they seem to belong together. The movie is gorgeously filmed, with wonderful sweeping views of Brideshead and Oxford and Venice. The costumes are lavish, and the acting is exceptional. The ever-brilliant Emma Thompson manages to make Lady Marchmain slightly sympathetic, which is a difficult task indeed. Ben Whishaw is devastating as the tortured Sebastian. The true star of the film, though, is Matthew Goode as Charles Ryder. He’s wonderfully talented – and not bad to look at. (He’s on the right in the picture below.)
Brideshead Revisited is available now on DVD. The DVD special features include deleted scenes, the filmmakers’ audio commentary, and “The World of Brideshead” featurette.
Carrie Kitzmiller is a homeschooling mom of four and a freelance writer in her “spare” time. When she’s not correcting grammar and math papers, reading aloud, scaling mountains of laundry, keeping her house clean (enough), or writing, you can find her with her nose in a book.