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Brideshead reinterpreted

The 2008 version goes its own way
By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  July 23, 2008
2.0 2.0 Stars

VIDEO: The trailer for Brideshead Revisited (2008)

Brideshead Revisited | Directed by Julian Jarrold | Written by Jeremy Brock and Andrew Davies based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh | With Matthew Goode, Hayley Atwell, Ben Whishaw, Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon, Greta Scacchi, Patrick Malahide, Ed Stoppard, Felicity Jones, Jonathan Cake, Anna Madeley, Joseph Beattie, and Tom Wlaschiha | Miramax | 135 minutes

Bridesheads revisited: The novel and the Granada TV adaptation. By Jeffrey Gantz.

“Excuse me, Mr. Waugh, did you see the new movie version of Brideshead Revisited?”

(Editor’s note: the following exchange took place in an undisclosed location, presumably celestial.)

“New movie? What was wrong with the old one?”

"I believe they’ve updated your book. New and improved is how they like to describe these things.”


“Well, sir, you still have Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) as a poor — ”

“Poor? Charles? Do they think I wrote The Talented Mr. Ryder?”

“ — student who goes to Oxford and falls in love with Lord Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw) and his sister Lady Julia (Hayley Atwell) and their Wiltshire manor, Brideshead (Castle Howard in Yorkshire), and he and Sebastian drink too much, and then the Flytes’ pious mother, Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson), takes Charles under his wing. The three young people go to Venice — ”

“Julia goes to Venice with Sebastian and Charles?”

“ — to visit the Flytes’ father, Lord Marchmain (Michael Gambon), who went off to the Great War and stayed on the Continent and took a mistress (Greta Scacchi), and there’s some kind of Carnival — ”

“In Venice in the summer?”

“ — where Charles kisses Julia and Sebastian sees it and gets upset.”

“I didn’t write that.”

“It’s in the script, sir. And Lady Marchmain gets upset too because the Flytes are Anglo-Catholics — ”

“They’re Roman Catholics. As was I.”

“Anglo-Catholics is what it says on the jacket of the new Everyman edition, sir. And Charles can’t marry Julia because she has to marry a Catholic.”

“Lady Marchmain appears to know more about Catholicism than I do.”

“So she gives a ball at Brideshead and announces Lady Julia’s engagement to Rex Mottram (Jonathan Cake).”

“But Lady Marchmain detests Mr. Mottram.”

“Not in this version, sir. Then Sebastian shows up drunk and tells Charles, ‘You don’t care about me, all you ever wanted was to sleep with my sister,’ and Charles tells Lady Marchmain, ‘You’re the reason Sebastian drinks,’ and Lady Marchmain tells Charles, ‘You’d better leave now,’ and Charles has to leave in the middle of the ball.”

“How original!”

“I believe the rest is pretty much as you remember — er, wrote — it, sir. Charles tells Lady Marchmain, ‘God’s your best invention — whatever you want, he does.’ ”

“I didn’t write that, either, but it sounds like Charles.”

“Charles goes off to Paris and becomes an artist. Sebastian goes off to Morocco and takes up with a derelict German named Kurt (Tom Wlaschiha) and keeps drinking. Lady Marchmain dies. Charles marries Celia Mulcaster (Anna Madeley) and goes off to Central America to paint and comes back and takes up with Julia again since she married Rex to please her mother and really loved Charles all along.”


“Then Lord Marchmain returns home to die, and the family — there’s also the elder brother, Bridey (Ed Stoppard), and the younger sister, Cordelia (Felicity Jones), but we don’t see much of them — the family want Lord Marchmain to see a priest, and Charles says it’s all bosh, and Lord Marchmain being barely conscious, it’s hard to know what he wants, but in the end the priest comes and Lord Marchmain makes the sign of the cross and Julia decides it would be a sin to marry Charles so she sends him away.”

“It all sounds like Brideshead Regurgitated. What do you understand to be the point?”

“Guilt, sir. That’s what we’re told from the start.”

“But my novel is about grace. Who wrote this nonsense?”

“Andrew Davies and Jeremy Brock, sir. That is, Mr. Davies started to, but then he stated that he was writing ‘from the point of view of someone who does not believe in the religious themes as Evelyn Waugh did. If God can be said to exist in my version, he would be the villain.’ Perhaps that frightened the studio, because after that Mr. Davies left and Mr. Brock came on. Julian Jarrold directed it. He did Becoming Jane.”

“I suppose this is his Becoming Evelyn. And the acting?”

“Begging your pardon, sir, Emma Thompson seemed to think that Lady Marchmain could be just as villainous as God. And the three young people — Mr. Goode and Mr. Whishaw and Miss Atwell — were like venial sins, only Mr. Whishaw was very fey. Mr. Gambon was a larger version of Sebastian’s teddy bear, Aloysius, and he seemed to be wearing polyester. No one else had much of a part, or seemed to know what he or she was doing. I don’t recall anything about the music, either.”

“Do you recall anything I might like?”

“Lord Sebastian’s pillar-box-red pajamas — I remember that from your book, sir. And the coots swimming on the Isis.”

“Then let’s drink to the coots. Grace is where you find it.”

  Topics: Reviews , Andrew Davies , Evelyn Waugh , Ben Whishaw ,  More more >
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