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Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.
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“Brideshead” Regurgitated

Well, the trailer for the film adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel “Brideshead Revisited” is out, and the film is slated for a summer release here in the States. (Trailer | Official Site). Waugh fans can but lament that, whereas Waugh said the book was essentially about “the operation of divine grace”, the screenwriter of this adaptation openly admitted that the script “turns God into a villain”.

Rather than being bold and creating a genuine work of cinematic art to match the novel, they’ve decided to take the easy and conformist route and do a God-hating rompy flick. (Because we can’t have too many of those!). A shame, of course, but entirely predictable. Shall we at least have a look at the cast?

The original plan was for Paul Bettany (of “Wimbledon”) and Jude Law (“The Talented Mr. Ripley”, etc.) to play Charles Ryder and Lord Sebastian Flyte, but eventually Matthew Goode and Ben Wishaw were chosen for the respective roles. Matthew Goode is a somewhat talented actor, best known for “Match Point”, but it’s hard to picture him as the artist Charles Ryder. I have never seen Ben Wishaw in anything, but from the trailer he seems to be a touch too camp for the role of Sebastian. This is the trickiest territory, because Anthony Andrews played Sebastian just right in the famous television adaptation.

The producers wisely chose to use Castle Howard as Brideshead, as in the 1981 series. To my mind, Blenheim is the only other house which would have suited and presumably Castle Howard, being up north yonder, is more economical as a filming location.

Ah, what a sight to see. Does anyone in Britain (or indeed elsewhere) except the Duke of Devonshire still have staff like they did before the war? One would hope so.

Emma Thompson is Lady Marchmain. She can do proper well enough, but can she do landed? I don’t think so. I suspect one will simply get used to her about fifteen minutes into the film, but I think they could have cast this one better.

Lady Julie Flyte is played by Hayley Atwell, of whom we know nothing.

Michael Gambon is Lord Marchmain. A top-notch actor, but, like Thompson, he is lacking that certain necessary quality in this role.

Among the other roles, Greta Scacchi plays Cara, Lord Marchmain’s mistress. Cordelia is played by Felicity Jones, a well-known voice from “The Archers” and recently seen as Catherine Morland in “Northanger Abbey”. Charles Ryder’s father, Edward, so delightfully played by John Gielgud in the 1981 series, will be played by Patrick Malahide, best known as Chief Inspector Alleyn in the Alleyn Mysteries. Joseph Beattie, of whom we know nothing, will play Anthony Blanche, very well-played by Nikolas Grace in 1981, and another hard act to follow.

I should probably confess that I actually strongly disliked the 1981 television adaptation. It had some gem moments, to be sure, but overall it fell a bit flat and was certainly far too long. Even worse, it unleashed a wave of delusional foppishness onto the world.

Instead of everyone wanting to be Bridey (as they should have!) hundreds of upper-middle-class Oxbridge undergrads all decided to emulate Sebastian, and emulate rather poorly at that. (They wanted to be Sebastian but ended up being Anthony Blanche). A teddy-bear named Aloysius and a jumper round the neck do not a conflicted Catholic aristocrat make.

Also, whenever anything today is done in a nice, old-school fashion some nitwit inevitably comes around and says “Oh, how Brideshead!”. It’s a bit like all those horrible people who see St Andrews for the first time and say “Wow, it’s just like Hogwarts!” Contrary to the popular imagination, drinking lots of champagne, dressing well, and taking a leisurely view of life all predate Brideshead Revisited.

This film version has some obvious flaws from the start, namely, inverting and perverting the entire essence of Waugh’s novel. Still, it has some talented, if ill-suited, actors in it and will hopefully be at least tolerable to watch. For me, much of it will hinge on how they treat the death of Lord Marchmain, if they even include the scene at all. I certainly plan on seeing it in the cinema instead of waiting for the DVD. And, hey, at least it hasn’t got Tom Cruise in it.

This post was published on Saturday, May 3rd, 2008 4:45 pm. It has been categorised under Books Church Cinema Great Britain and been tagged under , , , .
Comments
  1. 4 May 2008
    3:10 am

    Hrmmm… I think I’d still like to see it. Thanks for the shout; I had no idea it was coming out!

  2. 4 May 2008
    7:52 pm

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I did read the book and watch the BBC serial. Sorry to disagree, but in both versions, I found both Sebastian and Charles more appealing than Bridey and especially Lady Marchmain, both of whom seemed to be Roundhead Whig poster children, not Recuants.

  3. 4 May 2008
    10:21 pm

    Everyone wanting to be Bridey? (shiver) Poor Bridey. He’s the most annoying one in the bunch, the devout Catholic who makes devout Catholics look bad (And his taste in women: Mrs. Mussprat? Yeesh.)…surely everyone should want to be Cordelia (my favorite character) or the converted end-of-book Charles Ryder?

    The movie, though, makes me nervous, and I don’t know if I can bare to watch the trailer.

    Oh, and good seeing you yesterday evening, Cusack!

  4. 4 May 2008
    10:22 pm

    I’m not sure what you had in mind with the comment that only Blenheim would have suited as an alternative. Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace are certainly two of the most sumptuous, but there are many English country houses that could just as easily provide the grandiose setting – Chatsworth, Burghley, Hatfield, Longleat, Woburn and Harewood to name only a few. Any one of these, with the possible exception of Woburn, would probably also do the trick.

    It is a shame that so many have been turned over to the National Trust as essentially museum pieces. Whilst the National Trust does good work in terms of preserving these expensive gems, the fact of nobody living there, the loss of life and livelihood to the surrounding countryside, must be a sad consequence of their current fate.

  5. Andrew Cusack
    4 May 2008
    11:47 pm

    Hmmm… well I seem to recall Bridey as being a more appealing character.

    I hope to reread the book soon; it’s been years.

    Re: houses. I think Hatfield would be completely inappropriate. Ditto Burghley and Longleat. Harewood and Woburn seem more in tune, but still not grand enough. Chatsworth maybe.

    One of the first acts of the counter-revolutionary regime would be the return of each National Trust house to its original family if a suitable member can be found to accept it.

  6. Robert Harrington
    5 May 2008
    12:07 am

    Cusack, you’re basically saying this film will be terrible but you’ll see it anyway.

  7. 5 May 2008
    12:48 am

    Sorry to be contrary, Andrew, but I think you’re quite wrong about the TV adaptation of this novel. Being the age that you are you’ve probably only seen it on video. Perhaps you are forgetting that when it was originally broadcast its nine hours were separated into parts like a serial or mini-series. That prevented it from seeming “too long” as you waited each successive week for the next installment. At the time, and even now, it was praised for its faithfulness to the book and the producers were lauded for having the courage to produce a nine-hour film specifically so that they could take the time to be so accurate in their adaptation and so faithful to the original.

    I hate to say this but if you thought Bridey was an appealing character that says much more about you than it does about anything else. He is the quintessential stuffed shirt and gives anyone who has ever considered a vocation to the priesthood a bad name. I cannot see how you can seriously think that Waugh intended him to be appealing in the slightest. Perhaps you should go back to the source and re-read the novel.

    I would agree with you that anyone who thinks what lies at the center of the book is a glorification of foppishness has really missed the point. I also think that it is a shame that there was a need felt to make a new film version of this. The older one stands up just fine. A shame, too, that a story that is essentially about a man’s conversion will, somehow, turn God into the villain.

  8. 6 May 2008
    8:30 am

    Some say that the BBC version is the best literary work ever brought to screen. The dialogs are are all there, and most of the descriptions. Cordelia’s entire and crucially Catholic conversation. In any event I never did like Jeremy Irons–I like the looks of this Ryder better. But if the film doesn’t show the bedside repentance/conversion scene, or worse yet, the final redemption of Sebastian– what a nasty betrayal towards Waugh.

  9. Flambeaux
    7 May 2008
    9:11 pm

    Andrew,

    I’m in full agreement with Fr. Selvester’s comments, although I fall in between his age and yours.

  10. JaneC
    10 May 2008
    1:07 pm

    Though it will not be a good adaptation of the book, at least it looks like it will be a succession of pretty pictures. Sometimes that is all one can expect from films now.

  11. 12 May 2008
    6:52 am

    The television version scarred me for life. It prompted me to consider my faith beautiful, compelling and fun. There was also the fact I fell desperately in love with the teenage Cordelia (myself being a teenager at the time). That may have had something to do with Phoebe Nichols but whatever the reason it didn’t make growing up in Geelong any easier.

    Had I seen this shabby little affair I might have been saved. First it doesn’t seem to have much intellectual backbone. There appears to have only a passing resemblance to the book. More importantly the caste is so singularly hideous as to be difficult to look at. This may be a device the producers have employed to distract attention from the abominable standard of acting but I can safely say this gormless crew would never have seduced me, as had the school of 1981.

    Beyond the above I agree wholly with Mr Brendon and Fr Selvester. There is a touch of Proust in Brideshead, something of the rag and bone shop of the soul. After the passions, the regret and the shame, the betrayal, the hope and the disappointment in love, there is the eternal flame burning above the tabernacle. Eternal faith is also lived whether it be driving ambulances like Cordelia or turning tragedy into saintliness like Sebastian. It is not Brideshead (although I suspect many of us secretly harbour fear we are like him – myself included). As Sebastian says, Bridie is all twisted inside. Interestingly Sebastian speculation is the root was Stonyhurst. Doesn’t he say something that he might have been the same had not Papa insisted on Eton? Well that’s the Jesuits for you.

    I remember hearing an explanation as to the difference between Ignatian spirituality and Jesuit spirituality. The difference can be seen at one of the Jesuit houses in Rome. As you enter, to the right, is an example of Ignation spirituality. It is a statue of St Ignatius under which reads “Set the world on fire”. That is Ignation spirituality. On the other side of the entrance hall is an example of Jesuit spirituality. It is a fire extinguisher.

  12. jedesto
    14 May 2008
    5:17 pm

    Brideshead in America
    For those who re-read, or first read “Brideshead Revisited,” the following exerpt is offered. It is from the review by Fr. Harold C. Gardner in America magazine 1/12/46. The references are to the 1944 edition published in 1945 by Little, Brown and Company, Boston.

    “This is a profoundly Catholic work. It will reward thoughtful reading. Perhaps a hint may help you to be aware of the art of its current form from the very first chapter. It is this: turn to the title* of Book II, and then look back to the bottom of page 220**. This will give you a hint as to the scructure of the book; with this in mind, it will be indeed only the very insensitive reader who will fail to catch the inexorable development and explication of the splendid tragedy-comedy. Here is the key to the book that so meny critics have missed.”

    * “A Twitch Upon The Thread”
    ** “I caught him (the Thief) with an unseen hook and in invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the earth and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.”

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