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Brideshead Revisited


Stars: Matthew Goode, Ben Whishaw, Hayley Atwell, Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon, Greta Scacchi, Patrick Malahide, Jonathan Cake, Niall Buggy

Director: Julian Jarrold

Evelyn Waugh’s novel is the basis for this lavish but listless drama which, compared with the celebrated 1981 Granada TV series, resembles a cut-down primer for American moviegoers more concerned with huge helpings of beautiful Olde English Heritage scenery – Castle Howard reprises its performance as the stately home of Brideshead – actors with fine English accents and, for more beautiful, beautifully photographed scenery, a visit to Venice which Waugh had inexplicably omitted from the original. Where the TV series shone as a beacon in the wasteland of British commercial TV in the 1980s, Jarrold’s film barely flickers in comparison.

The screenplay, by Andrew Davies and Jeremy Brock, features one of the former’s trademark sex scenes (it will doubtless look good in the trailer) but otherwise there is precious little passion as middle-class Oxford undergraduate Goode falls under the spell of precious Brideshead scion Whishaw (giving an even more mannered and irritating performance than usual, something I would have thought near impossible until now) and is seduced into the upper-crust Catholic world of Brideshead where he falls for Whishaw’s sister Atwell…

Waugh's Catholicism is well enough served and while 21st century movie mores allow Whishaw’s friendship with Goode to have a far more obvious homosexual undertone than the TV original there’s little else to recommend this shallow adaptation apart from the fine acting of Thompson who is superb as Brideshead's chatelaine Lady Marchmain. She gives a memorable performance in spite of a poor wig which seems to shift on her forehead from scene to scene. Gambon enjoys chewing on the scenery as Lord Marchmain, Goode is good enough and Scacchi has her moments. Otherwise (and, having worked on the Granada TV series, I read the original novel several times), this superficial show does Waugh a real disservice.

Ironically, another TV company – the BBC whose funds were the result of (now former) BBC film supremo David M Thompson’s involvement – helped fund the film, along with that saviour of under-funded British movies, the UK Film Council. So you’ve already paid twice, once through your TV licence and again through the Lottery, think hard before you pay for it a third time.

Alan Frank

UK 2008. UK Distributor: Walt Disney. Colour by deluxe.
132 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 29 Sep 2008