As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Brideshead Revisited

Posted by Hedwig on November 3, 2008

I haven’t read Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. I haven’t seen the acclaimed miniseries with Jeremy Irons. And while I knew something about the book’s anti-catholicism and the bare outlines of the plot, I had somehow – unfairly – dismissed it as yet another period drama. A “costume drama”, to use the Dutch expression: lots of nice dresses with little underneath.

But I learned it with Atonement last year and now again with Brideshead Revisited now: you can do some pretty interesting things within the frame of a period drama. In both cases, interestingly enough, the characters function more as ideas (in the Platonic sense, I would almost say) than as people of flesh and blood. And in both cases, a romantic spine, if you will, is used to tell a story of something entirely different: the dangers of subjectivity in the former, and the dangers of organised religion in the latter.

I don’t want to make these films sound dry and dull. They’re not. Atonement is vibrant especially in its first segment, in no small part because of the great score, and Brideshead is surprisingly funny and evocative. I think Patrick Malahide (who played Charles’ father) was under the impression he was in a comedy, and while his scenes jar a little with the rest of the movie, they’re painfully funny. And the “idyllic” period, with the drinking and the dancing and the occasional chaste kiss, is gorgeously filmed and makes you understand Charles’ motivation completely.

It helps that he’s played by Matthew Goode, who I certainly don’t mind looking at, and who imbues Charles with a hard shell under his seemingly laid-back, charming exterior. And it helps that he has the wonderful Ben Whishaw to play against: he’s almost goes over the edge from time to time, but his Sebastian is a truly tragic figure, that you can’t possibly dismiss as just a spoiled brat. And Emma Thompson plays the ruthless Lady Marchmain so sharply that you can imagine her haunting her children even after her death.

I didn’t love Brideshead as some, but it did take me by surprise, and I am now looking forward to seeking out the book and the miniseries. And I’ll be careful, in the future, to not be so casually dismissive of period dramas.

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4 Responses to “Brideshead Revisited”

  1. Sounds like me and you like the film pretty much the same, more than we thought we would anyway. I liked it, the first half I found amazing and I loved it, it just sort of faded for me in the towards the end, but it was a good film. I really think so. The book is brilliant, and the miniseries is good too, but quite different to the film indeed.

  2. “In both cases, interestingly enough, the characters function more as ideas (in the Platonic sense, I would almost say) than as people of flesh and blood.”

    I love this line, especially as an intensive reader of Plato’s works.

    Waugh’s novel is fascinating, though I have never cared for the conclusion (which was heavily criticized by his contemporaries). As a Catholic, I do not interpret it as “anti-Catholic,” per se, especially as it reads more like a laical elucidation of of Waugh’s own faith, to which he converted.

    I have yet to see this film, however. You have certainly persuaded me that I should view it on DVD as it is gone from my area’s theatres now and I do not wish to drive far in my current physical condition.

    The 1981 miniseries with Jeremy Irons is superb.

  3. YAY, Hedwig!!!!

    In the fevered fabulous world of Miranda Wilding, ATONEMENT and BRIDESHEAD REVISITED stand as five star masterpieces.

    Considering that I can go YEARS without giving ANY current films five stars, that’s genuinely saying something.

    Very happy you enjoyed BRIDESHEAD, my girl.

    Something tells me you’ll be a convert in no time flat…

  4. Sam Juliano said

    I am especially thrilled that you acknowledged the score of ATONEMENT as “great” since I see that Dario Marianelli contribution as one of the best in recent years. I’ll admit the new BRIDESHEAD didn’t win me over, but I fully understand and respect Miranda’s position, as the film has it’s fans for sure. I did like the earlier BBC BRIDESHEAD though. Glad you enjoyed the performances and at least were moderately imprssed. Good to read a review of this quality too.

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