16 December 2008 | Philby-3
A sketchy remake
Is this film a worthy interpretation of "Brideshead Revisited"? Well, up to a point, Lord Copper, as another one of Evelyn Waugh's characters was wont to say.
First, scriptwriter Andrew Davies, a past master of adaptation of great and not-so great literary works, has put the focus on the Charles and Julia love story rather than the Charles and Sebastian 'romantic friendship' as Cara, Lord Marchmain's Italian mistress puts it. The religious aspect is dealt with almost incidentally.
Second, Lady Marchmain, as played by Emma Thompson, is a very grim person with total emotional control over her children and whose particular Christian beliefs means that she is indifferent to their suffering as to her this life is a mere precursor to the glorious afterlife the same attitude as a 9/11 hi-jacker in fact. She has none of the sweetness that Claire Bloom brought to the 1981 TV series.
Third, some of the performances owe a good deal to those in the TV series, especially Matthew Goode as Charles who has an uncanny likeness to Jeremy Irons. And of course Castle Howard reprises its role as Brideshead. Some characters were reduced to ciphers; for example Bridey who played by Simon Jones stole several scenes in 1981 but the part is reduced to a non-entity here. Michael Gambon, a consummate actor, gives us a new take on Lord Marchmain to compare with Lawrence Olivier's earlier version.
Overall, though, I was left with the impression this film has not much to say which is new. Like the recent feature film version of "Pride and Prejudice", it gives a broad outline of the story but misses out much of the rich context provided by the minor characters. Oh, read the book instead.