on 20 June 2012
In a number of ways this is not a bad adaptation; necessarily condensed, beautifully shot and carefully produced. Most of Waugh's key themes about faith, class and the transient nature of love are preserved, but adapter Andrew Davies takes too many liberties with the main characters resulting in a compromised and de-valued piece of work.
Mathew Goode is a solid Charles Ryder, but this version makes him a much more ambiguous character than the star-struck observer we are familiar with from the book and famous television production of 1981. Waugh's Charles is dazzled by Sebastian, his family and by Brideshead itself in a rather pure, selfless way, except possibly towards the very end of the book when age and cynicism are getting the better of him. In Julian Jarrold's film however, its hinted pretty early on that his motivations may be murky - does he tolerate and manipulate Sebastian and Julia simply to gain a proprietorial foothold over Brideshead itself? This is kept enigmatic, but it nevertheless seems like an unnecessary cheapening of Charles' character.
The relationship between Charles, Sebastian and Julia is also misconceived, fashioned as a romantic triangle with Sebastian's rejection by Charles given as the prime reason behind his descent into depression and alcoholism. This departs significantly from the book, where Charles and Julia do not get romantically involved until many years after his rejection by Sebastian.
All of this particularly compromises the character of Sebastian himself. In the book and the TV series he is a dazzlingly beautiful, glamorous and charismatic sprite who Charles never fails to be captivated by, and his decline is more one of spirit and the burdens of his family than of something as feeble as a romantic slight. In this film, and as played by the small, slight and mousy Ben Wishaw, Sebastian is reduced to little more than a feeble, needy hanger-on, stripped of the wilful self-containment that gives him his dignity. This badly imbalances the film and robs it of one of its most important allegories - the inevitable decline yet continuing attraction of a particular social class in the inter-war years.
on 27 July 2012
The problem with the film is that it totally antithetical to the novel - in fact to call this film Brideshead Revisited is a travesty. Brideshead Revisited is about the search for "truth" and "meaning" which, ultimately, for Waugh, can only be found in the Roman Catholic Church (a position I personally do not agree with but that does not affect my appreciation of the novel or the brilliant TV series). Waugh is intelligent enough to know that this is not without its personal cost. The film overturns the basic premise of the novel, and it is fundamentally anti-Catholic.
It is often necessary to change incidents, characters etc in converting a book to film and this does not worry me. The problem with this film is that it rips the heart out of the book and leaves us with nothing.
on 4 June 2015
Any film adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's classic novel Brideshead Revisited must inevitably be compared with the sumptuous, highly-regarded, if overlong, Granada Television version 0f 1981. This version is very much shorter so a good deal of compression and omission has been necessary. Thus, some of the secondary but still quite significant characters like Anthony Blanche, Cordelia Flyte and the very much put-upon Mr Samgrass are either dealt with quite summarily or are hardly visible. The central story, of the relationships between the two young men, Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte, and the latter's sister, Julia, is substantially intact but the focus has been shifted much earlier onto the sexual attraction between Ryder and Julia. This is, of course, not as Waugh intended. Production values are high, with Oxford, Castle Howard and Venice romantically resplendent and the film scores over the television version by shortening the final, drawn-out scenes when Lord Marchmain returns to Brideshead to die. The conflict between the family's Catholicism and Ryder's atheism is also sharply drawn. But there is at least one vital element missing : the narrative voice-over by Ryder, whose reflections on what he experiences are central to the story, as is his realisation in the 'book-ended' Second World War scenes (in the revisited Brideshead) that his life has become empty and wearisome, but with just a hint at the very end that he has found a glimmering of the sort of religious faith which sustained most of the Marchmain family. Ben Whishaw, as Sebastian, and Hayley Atwell, as Julia, are not overshadowed by their predecessors but Matthew Goode does not quite match Jeremy Irons' portrayal as the far from likeable Ryder. As the senior Marchmains, Michael Gambon and Emma Thompson are slightly in the shadows of Laurence Olivier and Claire Bloom. There are a number of Special Features, including the now familiar cast and crew interviews in which fulsome tributes are paid to colleagues. To summarise, the film edges to a **** in its own right but rates only a *** as an adaptation of the book.
on 24 March 2010
This is not an adaptation of the novel of the same name. It is, rather, a truncation and, in plain speech, a mutilation of said novel. Like so many, I have fond memories of the TV series from the eighties. That was a faithful rendering of Waugh's book; made all the more remarkable by virtue of the fact that the adaptor of the novel for the small screen was John Mortimer, an avowed atheist.
Mortimer could not share or even sympathise with Waugh's religious convictions. Nonetheless, appreciating that Waugh's faith was woven into every strand of the novel, he was most diligent in ensuring that it was also seen to be at the very heart of the story of the TV series. This filmed version, in contrast, is a very loose adaptation of the novel. The plot has been drastically - I might say surgically- altered by the scriptwriter. Whilst I appreciate that it is not possible to squeeze the plot of a complete novel into a two hour film the changes that have been made here are drastic and destructive.
I came to this film expecting to find an accurate, albeit condensed, version of the story of the novel. If only I had been right! The love affair between Charles and Sebastian is cut out completely; Julia is written in to scene after scene in which her character is completely absent in the novel and Waugh's religious message is turned completely on its head. Waugh, to put it simply, saw God as the good guy. The scriptwriter of the film sees God as the bad guy- the true villain of the piece.
This is a perfectly legitimate point of view to hold but if he wished to convey this why did he not I wonder adapt another novel that held to that notion? Why ruin this one? Sterling performances by the cast and a beautiful background for filming (Castle Howard - the same great house that was used as Brideshead in the TV series) cannot redeem this film. I wish I could award it no stars at all or five stars in the negative. Do not buy - or even rent- this film.
on 14 April 2010
This was Director Charles Sturridge's recent comment about the unique process enjoyed by the production team at Granada and the actors and technicians involved in the 1981 mini series. A special moment occurred where creativity was allowed to flourish and a 2 year process culminated in a piece of television history.
When the Producer Derek Granger also added, 'those days are gone', he wasn't referring to Waugh's landscape and characters but the art of film making.
The 2008 production could never conjure up the alchemy of 1981. And it has since been proved that high production values, which drown this film, do not equal art. In 1981 a one-off was created. Something unrepeatable.
If the mini series told us anything, it was that this novel needed to be adapted in full, with Waugh's voice at the forefront ....and that would take time. The investment Granada made in the attention to detail paid off. Audiences were prepared to watch a 13 hour story evolve.
My hope is that viewers of this film, new to Waugh and Brideshead, will get a flavour of this great story and with any luck seek out the 13 hour experience - which still shimmers unrivaled after 30 years - in another league.
on 13 September 2010
Like all the reviews of this awful film I agree don't waste your money on this. Buy the simply excellent box-set of the Granada series. The makers of this film deserve to be banned from film making for ever as it has no resemblance to the book or the story save the name in the title. No wonder it bombed at the box office. Leave well alone.
on 22 April 2010
Like many of the reviews I have read on this film, I would give this no, or even negative stars, if I could. Its an absolute atrocity; a butchering of the book that turns the story into a Hollywood-ized movie that is infuriatingly crude and obvious. The writer of this film, not the actors, is the culprit: he has not only changed the events of the plot, but has written a screenplay that actually brings out the wrong message of the story. For example, Julia spends far too much time with Charles and Sebastien and she even accompanies them to Venice: anyone who has read the book would realise how completely inappropriate this is. There are several other instances of this but i would have to write an essay to explain them all.
Basically, dont waste time and money on this rubbish: watch the brilliant granada series - a dazzling, masterful adaption of the book.
on 13 August 2010
I approached this film from the perspective, and possibly the prejudice, of someone who knew the original book and also adored the superb and faithful Granada TV epic series. Consequently, I was extremely disappointed by the gross inaccuracies in the plot, and also the overly "Hollywood" take on the characters. I was half expecting to find out that `The Comic Strip' had produced this film as a spoof.
As soon as Julia went on the trip with Charles and Sebastian to Italy, as was never written by Evelyn Waugh, I completely lost faith in this effort. Such a blatant departure from the book also undermines, and underplays the transient homosexual relationship between the two main male progenitors, and ruins the whole premise. Yes, Charles' transfer of affection from Sebastian to Julia is the plot's lynchpin, but it is hurried here, and loses all subtlety.
On the positive side, Emma Thompson is fabulous, and she is perhaps the only actor to actually `get' the feel of the plot. Michael Gambon is good too, but blink and you miss him. All in all, if you approach this film never having seen or read anything about the story before, then there maybe something here for you. Otherwise, go and buy the Granada box set instead!
on 19 April 2010
There is plenty here to infuriate Brideshead fans, a group of which I count myself a member. And yet I don't begrudge the two hours I spent watching this DVD last night. On reflection, I enjoyed spotting as many of the deviations from the novel as I could. And I spotted an homage to 'Don't Look Now' in one of the nocturnal canal scenes in Venice, so I wonder if there are others.
As others have noted, the biggest sin committed by this screenplay is the role of Julia. In the novel, Sebastian goes downhill as a by-product of the pernicious cycle of his increased drinking and escapism causing his mother to track his movements more intensely, which leads to more drinking etc. In this movie, Julia goes to Venice with Charles and Sebastian -- I don't recall that in the novel -- and it is Sebastian catching a snatched kiss between Charles and Julia which drives him to solitude and heavier drinking. In the novel Julia doesn't become the 'love of Charles's life' until his marriage to Celia deteriorates; this movie suggests that Charles knows she is the one as soon as he lights a cigarette for her in the car journey from the station.
So many great cameo performances from the TV series have been omitted from this movie. Anthony Blanche barely gets a look-in, disabled German Kurt gets 10 seconds, and the fellow student that John Gielgud pretended was an American at dinner -- definitely the funniest moment of the TV series and audio CD -- has vanished.
You must, must, must buy the TV series DVD first, before this. This is the remixed pop video version -- equally sumptuous, but with the plot very changed and abridged. I would also recommend the audio CD narrated by Jeremy Irons -- he does the voices, particularly of Charles's father -- so well.
on 11 December 2009
This film is a murder story. It's murdered a great book and taken it into the realms of middle class fantasy, rather than aristocratic grandeur. Emma Thompson changes her accent from Hampstead to aristo too often and as for Ben Wishaw! Gay hair dresser I would say, and brunette? Oh dear, this great work has been dumbed down to make it more accessible as a "chick flick." The only saving graces are Matthew Goode's Charles, Jonathan Cake's Rex and an all too brief Greta Scacchi as Cara, who was spot on. Hayley Atwell's Julia, doll like and moving at times, was far too manipulated in this adaptation to be considered nothing more than eye candy. There was not even one good drawing room scene at Brideshead; they obviously live in halls and dining rooms. Where were the great London scenes at Marchmain House? Why was Julia in Venice? Strange adaptation; it has a life of its own, yet no life at all. Truly the murder of one of the greats of modern literature. I can't give more than 2 stars (and that is generous), considering the raw materials the producers/directors had to work with. Not enough research has gone in to it; Ben Wishaw, in one of the features, admits to never having met an aristocrat. How could he then play one convincingly. Either do the job properly or not at all. Perhap, as an aristocrat I'm biased.