2008 Running time: 135 Certificate: 12 Rating: 3

Synopsis

Evelyn Waugh's sweeping saga charting the decline of the aristocratic Marchmain dynasty gets the big screen treatment for the first time. Matthew Goode plays Charles Ryder, a middle-class Oxford history student who finds himself in the hallowed portals of the ancestral pile Brideshead courtesy of Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw), the louche son of Lord and Lady Marchmain. He discovers a closed and dying world of privilege, the Papacy and plovers' eggs.

Director

  • Julian Jarrold

Cast

  • Matthew Goode

  • Ben Whishaw

  • Hayley Attwell

  • Joseph Beattie

  • Emma Thompson

  • Michael Gambon

  • Greta Scacchi

Review

Novelist Evelyn Waugh considered the story of the crumbling of the English-Catholic aristocracy to be his magnum opus.

Seen through the receptive eyes of Charles Ryder's social outsider, it also managed to weave in themes of forbidden love and loss of innocence.
A fresh-faced, linen-suited Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews memorably portrayed Ryder and the tormented Sebastian Flyte in the benchmark, 11-episode TV adaptation in 1981.
Now - for the first time - the sprawling novel spanning three decades from the 1920s to the 1940s is compressed for the big screen by Kinky Boots and Becoming Jane director Julian Jarrold.
Large chunks of the book have been filleted - so we've got less of Chaz'n'Seb flouncing around Oxford on pushbikes and more of Ryder's adulterous infatuation with Charles' sister Julia - yet the narrative flows and the Marchmains' crippling Catholicism takes centre stage.
The out-of-his-depth Charles - a tweedy middle class student whose dad sips Windsor soup in a bow-tie - reacts with stunned awe when he's first introduced to Brideshead (actually, like the TV series, Yorkshire's Castle Howard), the family pile of the Marchmains.
He's there at the invitation of Sebastian (Whishaw), an outwardly louche bohemian who Charles soon discovers is conflicted by his smothered homosexuality and his stifling faith, as compounded by Lady Marchmain (Thompson), a steely matriarch and Vatican stormtrooper.
During a visit to Venice to visit Sebastian's hedonist father (Gambon) and his Italian mistress (Scacchi), Charles discards his wary stance as a bystander after he enjoys a stolen kiss with the alluringly free-spirited Julia (Atwell).
Their liaison spells disaster for the aristocratic family. Lady Marchmain - fearing a non-Catholic marrying into the family - farms Julia off to a dodgy Yank while the fragile Sebastian disintegrates into a pool of booze and ups sticks to Morocco.
It's a rich, satisfying journey with top-notch performances - especially Thompson as the Catholic control freak - even if Whishaw, who looks like he was dressed by Ronnie Barker, over-eggs the grand campery.
Purists may baulk at Jarrold's liberties with the text but it's a well-constructed story that works on many levels. If you enjoyed the book or the series, revisit Brideshead.
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