Brideshead Revisited Review
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Somehow, despite my years of studying literature, I’ve never read Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. After seeing the latest big-screen adaptation by director Julian Jerrold (Becoming Jane), though, I might have to give it a read—so I can get the whole story.

Brideshead Revisited tells the story of Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode), a young man from London who finds himself in a very different world when he befriends fellow Oxford student Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw). During their summer break, flamboyant and fun-loving Sebastian summons Charles to his family’s majestic estate, Brideshead, to keep him company. There, Charles meets Sebastian’s family—including his beautiful sister, Julia (Hayley Atwell), and his strict mother, Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson).

  
 
Despite the family’s affluence, life at Brideshead isn’t just leisure and dinner parties. A staunch Catholic, Lady Marchmain passive-aggressively manipulates her children—and even their new atheist friend, Charles—with a steady diet of guilt and high expectations. No matter what they do try to escape—and to follow after their own dreams—Brideshead (and its ruling matriarch) keeps pulling them back.

In the same way, no matter how much I love big, bold blockbusters like The Dark Knight, I just can’t escape my literary background—and the literary period pieces like this one just keep calling me back. As with many films in the genre, Brideshead is somewhat muted and subdued, but it’s also stunning to look at—from the costumes to the landscapes and settings (from the English countryside to the canals of Venice) to that inanimate yet oh-so-important major character, Brideshead.

Meanwhile, the human characters, too, are fascinating—as is their tangled web of relationships. Sebastian is openly homosexual (or at least he is at school—though his family seems quietly aware, too), but the nature of his relationship with Charles is left rather ambiguous. It’s quite clear, however, that Sebastian has the same feelings for Charles that Charles has for Julia. Their family dynamics, too, are rather complex—with Emma Thompson’s phenomenal performance as the cold and matronly Lady Marchmain in the center of it all. And the whole thing makes for a rather pleasantly twisted mess.

Still, at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel that the story was missing something. It seems as though the screenwriters began writing under the assumption that their audience will have read the book before seeing the movie. Or perhaps they just left out certain details to foil the plans of future high school students who choose to rent the movie instead of taking the time to read the book. Whatever the case, though, the result is that, at times, this fascinating and multi-layered story feels slightly incomplete—and it left me wanting just a bit more.

Overall, though, Brideshead Revisited is a beautiful and captivating film about family and faith. If you enjoy period dramas, this one is definitely worth a couple of hours of your time. If you haven’t already read Waugh’s novel, though, you’ll probably feel compelled to pick up a copy on your way home from the theater—so you can read the rest of the story.


DVD Review:
When it comes to special features, the DVD release of Brideshead Revisited offers just the basics. On the film’s commentary track, director Julian Jarrold, producer Kevin Loader, and writer Jeremy Brock discuss filmmaking memories and the decisions they made along the way—and they offer a few interesting little trivia tidbits along the way. The DVD also features seven deleted scenes (available with or without audio commentary by the same trio of commentators).

The best of the extras, however, is the 20-minute making-of feature, which explains how the filmmakers went about making an epic film on a less-than-epic budget. This feature touches on everything from the filmmaking process (including the cast and their costumes, as well as the film’s various locations) to the story’s themes and relationships.

While the DVD’s extras certainly aren’t must-sees, they do add a bit to the film. But, really, if you are (or ever have been) a lit geek like me, the film’s literary background alone makes it worth checking out—and Emma Thompson’s performance just adds to the period-drama fun.

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