Brideshead Revisited

With Ben Whishaw as camp as a row of tents and the long shadows of an incomparable TV series putting the movie Brideshead Revisited into the category of been there, seen it, bought the t-shirt, it’s Brideshead Revisited, again, one might say. I revisited it for the third time, being on the wrong (or right) side of forty to remember the TV series from the eighties and to have read the book by Evelyn Waugh. 

For those who haven’t seen the TV series, or read the book by Evelyn Waugh, go see the movie in cinema when you get the chance. It’s a good movie and well worth spending the time. It’s not as good as the TV series, which was excellent, and both are not as good as the book, which is outstanding. Nonetheless, the movie is worthwhile watching.

What really destroyed my enjoyment of the movie was the fact that the story deviated considerably from the book. This doesn’t mean that the story in the film was bad, it’s just not the story Evelyn Waugh wrote. And the TV series still casts a long shadow as well, so the actors have to live with often being (unfavourably) compared to the TV cast of the eighties which included Jeremy Irons.

There is a scene where Sebastian and Charles kiss. It’s not in the book, it’s not in the TV series, and it’s not really necessary to the story told. To include it just for cheap gay gawking heterosexuals is demeaning to the movie, and it has not earned it. The deviation with Julia in Venice and the kiss with Charles is not such a crass error. It might even have helped the story as it is told in the movie. But the story in the movie drops a lot of secondary roles which are not essential to the main story, but to the overall picture the book painted. I am not quite happy about it, but one is able to survive it despite a lot of atmosphere that is lost that way.

The movie cast, though, is unexceptional. Matthew Goode as Charles struggles against being just a reincarnation of Jeremy Irons, and loses most of the time. Ben Whishaw in contrast is not at all even comparable to Anthony Andrews as Sebastian. Ben Whishaw, as one of the more unfriendly commentators wrote, makes Quentin Crisp look butch. He is so camp, he is in danger of becoming boring. That Charles should transfer his feelings from Sebastian to Julia is no longer a wonder, it’s just a wonder what took him so long or even why he fell for him to begin with. In comparison, it is quite clear why Andrews received the best actor Bafta in 1981 for his rendition of Sebastian. His Sebastian hadn’t been gay or straight, it had been simply Sebastian Flyte, eccentric.

Emma Thompson as Lady Marchmain is a find. She is one of the best actresses of our time, and in this film you can see why. Patrick Malahide as Lord Marchmain manages to shake off the long shadow of Sir John Gielgud’s TV performance after a time and, dare one say it, becomes even better as the story progresses. Hayley Atwell as Julia is a bit too 21st century to really fit the part and can’t make one forget Diana Quick TV performance. But all the supporting roles are sadly lacking in colour and are cut down to mere nothings. Sad, but probably it was necessary to get everything into a film of cinematic length.

Once you have seen the movie, go out and buy the DVD of the TV series. It is really worthwhile, and you will enjoy it even more as the movie, I can guarantee that. Only after you have seen the series should you read the book, because even the series had to bend the story to fit a screen. Once you have gone through all that, tell me, if I was right, or if I was right.

If you think about it, 30 years is a long time. But still the TV series looms large over the movie. And if you ask me, was it really that good? Yes it was. Every minute of it was that good. 

Further reading
Being Politically Incorrect
Poking Fun at Book Critics
Eccentric Aristocrats' Stories