Review: Brideshead Revisited

By Gerald Aaron, October 3, 2008


The key question is this. Does this English Heritage-drenched film of Evelyn Waugh's classic 1945 novel match up to the landmark 1980s ITV mini-series. Regrettably, the answer is no.

Having worked (in a very lowly capacity) on the TV series, I find director Julian Jarrold's film perhaps more faithful to the novel's religious themes, but a much lighter, lesser piece of work, and, compared with the mini-series, seriously under-cast.

The story begins at Oxford in 1925 where undergraduate Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) is befriended by louche young aristocrat Sebastian Flyte (Ben Wishaw) who draws him into his privileged home life. There Ryder falls for Flyte's sister Julia (Hayley Atwell) only to find himself increasingly at odds with the family's preoccupation with privilege and Catholicism.

Goode is good enough but hardly outstanding, Wishaw is irritating and more mannered than his character, leaving Emma Thompson as his mother Lady Marchmont and chatelaine of the ancestral home Brideshead to give easily the best performance. Michael Gambon impresses as Sebastian's father but, like the leads, the majority of the acting is serviceable but little more.

The costumes and period trimmings are fine, as is Castle Howard which, as in the television series, stands in for Brideshead. A visit to Venice (not in the original) is included presumably to attract American audiences with a love for the picturesque.

But in the end, this Brideshead emerges as better suited to the small screen than the cinema.

Last updated: 2:59pm, February 18 2011