Review by Jack Foley
JULIAN Jarrold’s big screen adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s complex novel was always going to be a bold undertaking and it’s one that ultimately proves beyond the best efforts of director Julian Jarrold.
Although beautiful to look at and supremely well acted by a stalwart British cast, Brideshead Revisited nevertheless remains a laboured experience that is curiously devoid of any real emotional investment.
It’s Oxford, 1925 and Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) is befriended by the flamboyant Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw), son of Lord and Lady Marchmain (Michael Gambon and Emma Thompson). Quickly seduced by Sebastian’s lifestyle and intrigued by his sexuality, Charles finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into the Marchmain family after being asked to visit their ancestral home, Brideshead.
But soon after Charles also becomes infatuated with Sebastian’s sister, Julia (Hayley Atwell), and begins a relationship that eventually places him at odds with the rest of the family and their deep and abiding Catholic faith.
The biggest problem with Jarrold’s movie is the episodic nature of the narrative, given that it spans three decades. When last filmed, Waugh’s novel was enough to sustain an 11-hour mini-series (starring Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews).
In film form, it tends to skip over many of the complex issues and leaves several of the characters short-changed, even though their performances deserve better.
Hence, the homosexual element of the story is distinctly under-played and lessens the impact of the triangle that exists between Sebastian, Charles and Julia, while Jarrold also appears to have trouble balancing the social, theological and faith issues with his need to let the camera linger over Venice, Oxford or Brideshead itself.
By comparison to more recent period films such as Atonement or even Jarrold’s own Becoming Jane, this is an inferior effort that feels every minute of its running time.
There are some positives. The central trio continue to build on their reputations as fine emerging actors (Atwell, in particular, shines), while there’s typically solid support from Thompson and Gambon.
Jarrold also ensures that he makes the most of his locations, but often at the expense of moving things forward.
Brideshead Revisited is by no means a terrible movie and is certain to boast a strong curiosity value given the popularity and reputation of the series. But whether you’ve seen the original or not, it’s doubtful whether you’ll emerge from this particular journey feeling anything other than under-whelmed.
Running time: 2hrs 12mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: March 9, 2009