In 1925 at Oxford University, Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) is befriended by the flamboyant Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw), son of Lord and Lady Marchmain (Michael Gambon and Emma Thompson). Sebastian takes Charles under his wing and when he's invited to Brideshead, the Flyte family's magnificent ancestral home, Charles becomes infatuated with Julia, Sebastian's beautiful sister Julia (Hayley Atwell) as well as everything the family represents. But he is not aware of the negative impact religion plays on their lives.
Review by Louise Keller:
This revisiting of Evelyn Waugh's novel is successful in part in that it firmly envelops both its characters and us into a cloud of Catholic claustrophobia. Guilt is inflicted on everyone by Emma Thompson's foreboding matriarch Lady Marchmain, who drives her homosexual son Sebastian (Ben Whishaw) to drink, her daughter Julia (Hayley Atwell) to an unhappy marriage and her husband (Michael Gambon) into the arms of his mistress (Greta Scaachi) in Venice. Matthew Goode's Charles Ryder, the impressionable outsider is sucked in too, besotted not only by the lovely Julia and the enigma of everything Sebastian represents, but the grandeur of a lifestyle he has never known. But Julian Jarrold's film is so plodding and overlong, that by the time it reaches its resolution, we care little for the outcome.
After a brief prologue, the film goes back 10 years in time when we meet Goode's Charles about to leave his uncommunicative father to go to Oxford to study history, even though it is art that is his passion. There he meets Whishaw's openly gay Sebastian, who flaunts a tired teddy bear called Aloysius. Jarrold keeps their relationship ambiguous, although they are openly affectionate to each other as they share strawberries and wine, naked frolics in the fountain and excursions on the lake. Once Sebastian takes the self-acclaimed atheist Charles to Brideshead, his magnificent castle-like estate of a home replete with statues, extravagant fountains, manicured lawns and gardens, Charles cannot get enough of it. There is an austere chapel too, where Thompson's disapproving Lady Marchmain takes him for prayers after a meal with the family. This is the Charles' first inkling about the negative hold Lady Marchmain and her strong religious beliefs have.
The performances are all well judged, although Goode cannot match Jeremy Irons' charisma in the BBC television series. Whishaw is an interesting choice for Sebastian and Atwell is appealing as Julia, but it's Thompson who leaves the greatest impact as the monstrous matriarch who manipulates everyone around her, poisoning them to the inevitability of the repercussions of their guilt. The script concentrates on the triangular relationship between Charles, Sebastian and Julia, although the interlude in Venice is a picturesque distraction. The locations are all splendid and it is easy to understand how the lure of the lifestyle above him is a magnet to Charles. In the end we feel a bit like Charles, totally worn down, which may well have been the intentions of the filmmaker.
Email this article
BRIDESHEAD REVISITED (M)
CAST: Matthew Goode, Ben Wishaw, Michael Gambon, Emma Thompson, Greta Scacchi, Hayley Atwell, Anna Madeley, Patrick Malahide
PRODUCER: Robert Bernstein, Kevin Loader, Douglas Rae
DIRECTOR: Julian Jarrold
SCRIPT: Jeremy Brock, Andrew Davies (novel by Evelyn Waugh)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jess Hall
EDITOR: Chris Gill
MUSIC: Adrian Johnston
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Alice Normington
RUNNING TIME: 135 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 2, 2008