Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Frank Review of "Brideshead Revisited" (2008)

The Short Version? Manity Fair.
What Is It? Period Drama.
Who Is In It? Ozymandias, Professor Sybil Trelawney.
Should I See It? Yes.

I'm an American who's never read Evelyn Waugh's beloved and very British novel "Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder," nor seen its revered eleven hour BBC television adaptation. I was that much desired receptive audience approaching this cinematic translation as a blank slate. I can honestly say just about anyone will be able to tell there's great chunks of the story missing here. While the film offers enough of a taste to intrigue the uninitiated, it will more than likely come to serve as a gateway to its more involved predecessors, rather than a destination unto itself.

Charles Ryder is a poor boy whose eyes constantly glance upward, toward a high society he would sacrifice much to make his own. Does he dabble with homosexuality to win over an affluent school chum? Does he leave the boy a drunken wreck and court the approval of his devoutly religious mother? Can he better deal his way toward the sister? Does he possess human emotion, or is he just an animal driven by his personal ambition?

Aside from a slightly hammy turn from Emma Thompson as Lady Marchmain, perhaps after too many years on Harry Potter sets, the cast is universally perfect for the film. You can see where Zack Snyder was going with his casting of Goode as Adrian Veidt in Watchmen through the actor's portrayal of Ryder. The sets and locations are magnificent, lending significant production value to a modestly budgeted affair. A lovely score by Adrian Johnston is similarly beneficial. Much to the relief of the males in the audience, Julian Jarrold's direction is stylish, offering very modern quirks to the period piece that hold the attention. Clearly, the maudlin yet distant text might be tougher to deal with. Still, considering how much ground needed to be covered, I found this a fairly brisk and mostly painless two-and-a-quarter hours. In fact, charting Ryder's cool, predatory path seemed to be a greater pleasure to me than to my better half. The movie is an intelligent exploration of class, religion, and sexuality that, while not wholly satisfying on its own, is worth sampling as a companion to other works.


  • The World of Brideshead A documentary that performs the usual sucking of source material cock, begging the audience not to hate it for diverging from the TV adaptation, while strutting its own distinctions.
  • Deleted Scenes More extended scenes actually, allowing a bit more time and interaction within sequences. Nothing earthshaking, but good enough to play through.
  • Audio Commentaty Typical, with director Julian Jarrod, producer Kevin Loader, and screenwriter Jeremy Brock.

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