This is the 1,939th post to Godsbody. Sixty-one more and I ought to be able to retire in style…

The NYT gives us a glimpse at what is to come:

THE images from the 11-episode mini-series are still vivid, 27 years later. Louche young Oxford students in crisp linen suits (and one teddy bear) drinking endless cocktails. A spectacular country estate, dripping with treasures and crackling with religious, sexual and dynastic tensions. A delicately beautiful Jeremy Irons.

It is those lingering memories, even more than Evelyn Waugh’s novel, that anyone attempting to turn “Brideshead Revisited” into a feature film for the first time naturally has to contend with. And so as not to contaminate his approach Julian Jarrold, the director, studiously avoided the mini-series — all that elegiac emotion, spread out over 659 languorous minutes — and returned to the book.

[Yay! A sound approach. Except…]

“It exposed some of the myths I’d had about ‘Brideshead,’ ” Mr. Jarrold said of his rereading. “I’d had the memory of it being a nostalgia trip about the passing of English life and a bygone era, a glorification of aristocracy — about people wearing odd clothes and poncing around Oxford.” That was part of it, he said. But there was also a bite and a sharpness that are as relevant now as they were in 1945, when the novel was published.

“One of the reasons for the book’s popularity is, it is an archetypal type of story of this young individual from a poorer, less interesting background who is welcomed into this beautiful, magical, alluring kingdom with wonderful, magical people,” Mr. Jarrold said. “And then he begins to realize that everything is not what it seems.”

[You know, I’m still with you, pal. “Nostalgia trip” is a trifle flip – mourning the end of an age is more like it. But okay, let’s see what you’ve got…]

The film, which is to be released on Friday, is set in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s and stars Matthew Goode as Charles Ryder, the unworldly student whose friendship with the aristocratic Lord Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw) introduces him to a whole new world of money, class privilege, deep happiness and deep despair. Castle Howard, an estate in Yorkshire, stands in for Brideshead, home to Sebastian and his family, a symbol of a dying way of life and a character in itself.

The mini-series was written by John Mortimer and stars Anthony Andrews as the teddy-bear-carrying Sebastian. It opens and ends with Charles (Mr. Irons), now a British Army officer, unexpectedly encamped at Brideshead during World War II. He begins to replay in his mind the role Brideshead, with its dark sorrows and bewitching delights, played in his life some 20 years earlier.

In this new version the filmmakers have, of necessity, pared down the story. World War II comes up only at the end. There is less time to dwell on the seemingly endless summer when Charles and Sebastian meet and their lives gradually become entwined. Some supporting characters given prominence in the mini-series — Sebastian’s younger sister, Cordelia, played in the original by Phoebe Nicholls, for example, or his waspish friend Anthony Blanche (Nickolas Grace in the series)— appear only glancingly in the film.

[Right – the film’s religious conscience and its aesthetic conscience. Gone.]

“It was a terrible struggle, and we worked for many, many hours on the screenplay in order to make the right choices,” said Jeremy Brock, who wrote it with Andrew Davies. “But bluntly, you have a 330-page novel and a two-hour film, and you don’t have the luxury of being able to include everybody.”

[Agreed. And the choices you make give some indication of the sort of story you want to tell.]

The filmmakers also have played up the love triangle of Charles, Sebastian and Sebastian’s bewitching sister, Julia (Hayley Atwell). An extended scene during a night of erotic possibility in Venice serves to advance Charles’s romance with Julia. (All the changes — including placing Julia in Venice — were approved by the Waugh estate, the filmmakers said.)

[And there’s the parenthetical knife.]

“This puts Julia center stage,” Mr. Brock said of the Venice scenes. “When you read the novel, there is a sense that she is slightly the one who comes after Sebastian, that she is No. 2, and I think it’s not quite fair. The true love story for Charles is the one with Julia.”

[Um – “Sebastian was the forerunner.” She was never number two – she was the Real Deal after the intimation. IT WAS NEVER A TRIANGLE.]

And while the homoerotic longings between Charles and Sebastian are more implied than explicit in the earlier incarnations, in the film they share a quick kiss. Instantly their easy camaraderie is polluted by a new awkwardness and inhibition.

“There’s a sense that maybe they’ve crossed a line that one of them isn’t ready to cross,” Mr. Brock said of the kiss.

[Um – what about the “love between English boys” speech? What about the “mortal sins” cheerfully mentioned in the novel, even in the midst of the happy summer? Something seems have been lost in translation…]

In a surprising casting move Lady Marchmain, the matriarch whose deep religious faith reverberates so tragically through the lives of her children, is played by Emma Thompson, made up toward the end of the film to look much older.

“I always associate Emma Thompson with being youthful and contemporary and playing decent, sensitive characters, whereas obviously this is the complete opposite,” Mr. Jarrold said. But Ms. Thompson can play old as well as young, lacing her character’s prodigious charm with a chilly savagery.

As much as it is a story about a lost period of English history — a final shining moment before everything changed forever — “Brideshead” is a novel about the inexorable pull of Catholicism. The issues it raises are particularly relevant now, Mr. Brock said, though viewers may interpret what they see differently depending on the role of faith in their own lives.

A scene toward the end, when the Marchmain family tussles over the soul of Lord Marchmain (Michael Gambon) as he lies on his deathbed, is wrenching and even shocking. After abandoning his wife and her self-sacrificing piety for a life of sensuality and ease in Italy, Marchmain has returned home to die. But what sort of role should Catholicism play, with its ability to pull in lapsed members with a “twitch upon the thread,” as Waugh put it, citing G. K. Chesterton, at the end of Marchmain’s life? To Charles’s fascinated horror, the question is of central importance to the family, and there is only one possible answer.

“In that tug between individual freedom and fundamentalist religion, there’s a story that’s apposite for our time,” Mr. Brock said. “In the modern age that’s something we’re all dealing with.”

[Ahem. Fundamentalist religion? Really? Wonder why the man came home to die? But at least they get the scene’s importance.]

An important divergence in tone from Waugh’s novel, Mr. Jarrold said, comes in the closing scene, when Charles — now back at Brideshead during World War II — talks to Lieutenant Hooper, a fellow soldier who has a rough accent and the forthright views of a modern man unimpressed by the aristocracy. How to portray him led to long discussions about the way that Waugh “is sometimes profoundly undemocratic” and disdainful of Hooper and what he represents, Mr. Jerrold said.

In the book Hooper is “described as a traveling salesman with a wet handshake,” he said. “But he’s the future of England, and the hope of the 1945 generation, and we’ve put a positive spin on him.”

[And there you have it. The Age of Hooper, dipped in gold.]


  1. I think a lot is said by the suppression of ‘Cor’-delia, the pure of heart.

  2. make the hurting stop.

  3. I just threw up in my mouth..

    “The Love Triangle?”

  4. mrsdarwin says

    And there you have it. The Age of Hooper, dipped in gold.

    Frankly, this movie sounds like it is dipped in lame after going through the studio abatoir.

  5. Matthew,

    I think we should make a film about your comments!

    Pure gold!

    Happy 1939th!

    Is it a coincidence that you picked this entry, coinciding with the year that War World II started, to write about Brideshead?


  6. Right on, JOB…You can direct and I am definitely the Gal Friday role.

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