Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Brideshead Revisited--Revisited

When I heard news a couple of years ago that there was going to be a film version of Brideshead Revisited, I was cautiously excited. After all, there has been an acclaimed miniseries version in 1981, starring Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews, but never a big-screen adaptation. It's taken a while for the film to materialize, but it's finally here and set to debut in September. The other day I heard there would be tickets to see the premiere here in Edmonton in a week, and I was excited to see it. That is, I was, until I saw the trailer.

The first time I encountered Brideshead Revisited was several years ago on a quiet Sunday afternoon in Vancouver in the home of one of my English Professors, Dr. Klassen. I had heard him speak about the book and miniseries before, and when my friends and I mentioned we'd neither read nor seen the story, he ushered us into the family room to watch an episode.

From the moment I first saw the first chapter--"Et in Arcadia Ego"--it was love at first sight. At the end of term I rushed out and rented the miniseries, and in the months that followed, I read the novel, along with a number of Evelyn Waugh's other books.

What did I find so appealing about the story? Brideshead Revisited is a book that speaks a great deal about faith and loving difficult people (little wonder that my favourite book of all time is A River Runs Through It). The characters in the novel are layered individuals, which is why the new film version is likely--scratch that--CERTAIN to cause disappointment.

Brideshead Revisited was based on the reminiscences of Charles Ryder (played in the miniseries by Jeremy Irons), who befriended the aristocratic Sebastian Flyte (Anthony Andrews in a standout performance) while studying at Oxford. The two men formed an extremely powerful bond and Ryder soon became a regular guest at Brideshead, the Flytes' ancestral home. Ryder is attracted to Sebastian's fabulous wealth and privileged existence, but he is baffled by the deep ties Sebastian and his family have to the Catholic faith. Over the years, he watches as his friend Sebastian falls into the grips of alcoholism and becomes romantically involved with Sebastian's sister, Julia. But the relationship between Charles and the once-divorced Julia is severely challenged by the fact that they cannot marry in the Church.

Rumour has it that the new film version will focus on the relationship between Charles Ryder and Julia Flyte, rather than the friendship between Charles and Sebastian, which goes completely against the novel (Charles and Julia's love affair is more of a secondary aspect of the book's plot). Moreover, the trailer suggests that Sebastian's mother objects to the marriage of Charles and Julia on the grounds that Charles is not an aristocrat. In the novel Charles' social position and wealth has nothing to do with his difficulties with Julia: the Flytes' faith--not their money--is the main hurdle Charles cannot overcome.

The new film version has chosen to downplay the issue of faith in favour of a sort of teen-romance, class-warfare plot line. While this can work very well in stories like the recent film Atonement (which I loved), it somehow falls rather flat in this case. For one thing, Charles Ryder was quite wealthy in his own right (as was Evelyn Waugh, as the story is somewhat autobiographical). The only difference is that his family's money is from their own enterprise, rather than inherited. And part of the point of the book is that the Flytes (well, apart from Julia herself) are NOT snobs. Sebastian freely welcomes Charles into his circle without a second thought, and any objections Lady Flyte might have to Charles are religious, not financial.


Thorsprincess said...

How disappointing! I suppose it might be an okay film, but it will never be Brideshead Revisited. I'm going to put the original series into my Netflix queue immediately. It is such a wonderful, evocative, thoughtful piece, and its revisting of a vanishing world that will never return is powerful and nostalgic. The emphasis on faith is absolutely central to the piece. Waugh Waugh Waugh--I could cry! Oh well, we'll always have PBS.

M.Kate said...

Hello Margaret :D
I'll be honest..I dont know anything about this Brideshead..but it sounds very interesting!! Tks for sharing and the information as well.

Margaret said...

You have to see it sometime, M.Kate--I think you'd really enjoy it. And even if you don't, the scenery in the miniseries is just amazing (all those grand old houses! And Oxford!).

I wish I had Netflix. I would watch the miniseries over and over again. I feel somewhat the same way about the book Brideshead as Charles Ryder does about the place:

"as the years passed I began to mourn the loss of something I had known in the drawing-room of Marchmain House and once or twice since, the intensity and singleness and the belief that it was not all done by hand—in a word, the inspiration"

Yeah, it's a little over the top, but delightfully so.

Anonymous said...

BR is my favorite book, so I'm bound to be disappointed by the movie.

I just ran across your blog--great! I'm a lover of A&C myself and just recently wrote a book on the Glasgow Style.

Margaret said...

A book on Glasgow Style? How interesting! I hope you'll stop by again!

Sarah said...

ooooh, Andrew and I were up in Victoria for our 5-year and we almost went to go see it. I saw the miniseries back when we first got married and liked it very much, though I never read the book. I'd very much like to rewatch the miniseries... sounds like the new movie isn't worth my time. If you do go see it, let me know what you think!

paulahewitt said...

the movies are never as good as the book! i am a big fan this book (and the series)i think that some books can be succesful as a film (i am thinking of Room with a View) but probably not in the hands of hollywood