Now Showing at: Mariemont Theatre.
Review by: Larry Thomas
When British author Evelyn Waugh completed work on his self-proclaimed “magnum opus,” Brideshead Revisited, in 1945, it was an immediate success with the public and critics alike.
In 1981, the novel was translated to the small screen in the form of an eleven-hour miniseries, which played in the US on PBS. It was a television sensation, and is still held in high regard. The cast included such British luminaries at Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud, and Claire Bloom, and managed to make a star of the then-unknown Jeremy Irons.
After another twenty-seven years have passed, Brideshead Revisited is being revisited once again, this time in a theatrical feature running about two hours. Considering the size of the novel and the length of the miniseries, you might assume that some characters and plot have been sacrificed for brevity’s sake. And you would be correct.
But that’s not necessarily all bad, unless you’re a purist that abhors the changing of one word, or the cutting of one frame. Those who are enamored of the book and/or the miniseries will likely be put off by the trimmings enacted on the story. However, if you’ve neither read the book, nor seen the miniseries, perhaps this is just the correct vehicle to peak your interest in both reading and seeing the originals.
Brideshead Revisited is a tale of British classes over a period of time, and features the requisite amounts of love, lust, longing, and lots of angst hinged upon religion. It doesn’t sound all that different from many other British melodramas, and in many ways it isn’t. It is nice to see some civilized filmmaking on the big screen, with lush photography, a time-and-place-appropriate music score, and some good performances, particularly from the requisite “names” in the cast, as Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon and Greta Schacchi. The rest of the performers are basically unknown to American audiences, although they acquit themselves quite admirably, particularly Hayley Atwell as Julia Flyte, the centerpiece of the story. She is of the upper class, and forbidden by her mother, Thompson, to marry her true love Charles Ryder, played with a typical stiff upper lip by Matthew Goode. Julia is also close to her black sheep of a brother Sebastian, a good role for Ben Whishaw.
Director Julian Jarrold broke out of his television series mold with two successful art house films, the goofy Kinky Boots, and the stodgy Becoming Jane, about the young Jane Austen. Unfortunately, stodgy is also an apt description for his adaptation of Brideshead Revisited. While there’s nothing terribly wrong with it, the pace makes it feel much longer than it actually is. Fans of British class dramas are likely to enjoy it more than the casual viewer, but neither will feel compelled to see it more than once.