Based on Evelyn Waugh’s novel of the same title, “Brideshead Revisited” is Julian Jarrold’s (“Becoming Jane”) wonderful effort to bring Waugh’s words to film. “Brideshead Revisited” was broadcast on TV In 1981 as an 11 part mini-series starring Jeremy Irons as Charles Ryder. The fact that Julian Jarrold was able to compress what was easily made into eleven parts is a daunting task at best, however it’s the feeling that something is missing from “Brideshead Revisited” that prevents this film from being more stirring.
Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) is an established painter with all sorts of society-types eager to purchase his artwork. While showing his work on a ship, he spots a woman from his past who sets in motion his story leading up to his success. Ten years earlier and Charles Ryder is leaving home to attend Oxford. Though not wealthy, he quickly befriends Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw) who not only comes from money but a large estate called Brideshead. When Sebastian takes Charles to Brideshead, Charles becomes intoxicated by the extravagant home and demands to see more of it, until Sebastian insists they must leave. It’s during the summer, that Sebastian asks Charles to join him at Brideshead along with his sister, Julia (Hayley Atwell).
Sebastian and Charles spend all their time together, drinking wine and enjoying the summer outdoors instead of trapped inside Brideshead. Their friendship is full of love, especially for Sebastian who is gay and Charles who feels a deep connection to Sebastian since before he saw the estate. While the story takes a turn when Charles eventually goes after Julia, you can’t help but feel that Charles genuinely cared more for Sebastian that her. Especially since Goode’s chemistry with Atwell lacked the passion necessary for this kind of love affair doomed by circumstance (she is Catholic, he is an atheist). Goode’s moments with Whishaw are more compelling and believable. It’s Sebastian’s desire to love Charles and to give to him like he never could his own family, and Charles desire to have someone love him and take interest in him that truly drive this film.
The hand that guides the tormented siblings who long to escape the pressures they feel at Brideshead, is Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson). Lady Marchmain has people she considers of good character follow Sebastian to make sure he’s living according to their faith, and she puts an impossible pressure on Julia to be perfect despite her not showing signs of being anything but an obedient daughter. It’s Lady Marchmain’s relationship with Charles that’s most interesting, since their scenes together involve several pleasantries as well as many disagreements not only on matters of faith, but Sebastian and Julia.
Charles longing for Julia burdens his relationship with Sebastian, and eventually sees him dismissed from Brideshead. It’s not until years later when Charles is a successful painter that Julia returns to his life, desperate to be with him away from Brideshead. But of course, Charles is obsessed with the estate and takes her back there, only to see everything unravel further. In fact, at the showing of his paintings someone says “There really is no end to your hunger, is there Charles?” It is this statement that sums up the film perfectly.
"Brideshead" is a rather frustrating film at times, which may be a testament to Waugh’s storytelling as well as Andrew Davies and Jeremy Brock’s constantly sorrow-filled script that rarely gives a moment of relief for any of the characters. When the movie fades out, the impression left is that of regret; regret that the movie didn't seem to offer all that was intended by Waugh. It’s not for a lack of Jarrold’s efforts, but rather a feeling that these characters couldn’t be wholly captured in a film. At the same time, I'm not sure adding more to the running time would have helped - maybe this story is best told in a miniseries.
While the film is beautiful to watch (Director of Photography Jess Hall does an excellent job capturing the light and landscape of every scene), it’s the characters that feel lifeless and never quite pull you in long enough for you to care about their wellbeing or their plights. That is, with one exception. Sebastian is the only character you truly feel sympathy for, as well as a genuine humanity. Thompson as Lady Marchmain gives such a stirringly cold performance that you can’t help but be drawn to scenes that revolve around her conversations. However, the scenes with Lady Marchmain and Sebastian are not enough to carry this film since it is Charles Ryder who tells the story, who takes us with him as he revisits Brideshead, the place he lusted after so greedily, more so than either Sebastian or Julia.
While there are certainly some fine performances (Thompson and Whishaw) here, the lackluster performance from Goode doesn’t drive the film as much as it could have, especially considering he’s so tormented by his need to be a part of Brideshead and those that occupy it. Jarrod’s efforts here really do show through in his attention to capturing some of the finer moments between Sebastian and Charles as well as Charles and Lady Marchmain, but the story always feels bigger than the film could allow.
VIDEO: "Brideshead Revisited" is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen by Miramax. This was an enjoyable, above-average presentation, but a few concerns kept it from reaching a higher level of quality. Sharpness and detail were reasonably good for the most part, but a few scenes here-and-there appeared slightly softer than the rest. As for other concerns, some noticable edge enhancement appeared in a few scenes, as did some traces of artifacting. The elements appeared in great shape, with no print flaws spotted at all. Colors appeared mildly subdued, but still seemed accurate and natural. Black level looked solid, while flesh tones were spot-on. This was a satisfactory presentation, but some problems did present themselves.
SOUND:The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation was, as one might expect, almost entirely dialogue-driven. The score did get some minor reinforcement from the surrounds, but the rear speakers were otherwise quiet throughout the majority of the film. Audio quality was perfectly fine, as the film's audio delivered dialogue with excellent clarity and no instances of distortion. The film's score also sounded full and crisp. Overall, this was a fine presentation that delivered the expected.
“The World of Brideshead”
This is a behind-the-scenes feature that focuses on several aspects of the film including production, casting, and costumes. A great look at the making of the film with several interviews and some fantastic behind-the-scenes footage.
You can watch the deleted scenes with commentary by Director Julian Jarrold, Producer Kevin Loader and Screenwriter Jeremy Brock. There are seven deleted scenes that don’t necessarily add to the film, but are certainly worth a look.
“Audio Commentary with Director Julian Jarrold, Producer Kevin Loader and Screenwriter Jeremy Brock”
This is a smooth commentary with a few lapses in conversation here and there, but they manage to keep the conversions going and offer interesting information about the cast, locations and the story. Worth a listen.
“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”
“Grey’s Anatomy: The Complete Fourth Season”
Final Thoughts: "Brideshead Revisited" does offer some fine performances and beautiful visuals, but the story feels compressed. The DVD offers good audio/video quality, as well as a few informative extras. A recommended rental.
The Film B