Thursday, February 25, 2010

Brideshead Revisited

I remember watching the T.V. miniseries version of Brideshead Revisited which introduced us to Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews. Andrews, especially, captured the soft and vulnerable soul of Sebastian, the teddy bear-hugging college student who introduces his friend to champagne and strawberries. Jeremy Irons and the rest of the cast were also memorable.

Flash forward some 27 years and you have the 2009 movie starring Matthew Goode as Charles Ryder, the college student who leaves his father's small apartment as well as his stilted relationship with him for the passions of college, represented quite easily by Sebastian Flyte (actor Ben Whishaw). Sebastian introduces Charles to life's simple pleasures, pleasures usually reserved for the rich, which is what Flyte is. Sebastian takes him home one weekend, and Charles falls in love with Brideshead, the huge manor of the Flyte family, ruled over by an imperious Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson). Even moreso, he falls in love with their style of living, and falls very easily into it upon visits. Charles thinks class and money are the only things holding him back from joining this adopting family, but there is one more force, more powerful than the other two, one that separates him irrevocably from them.

I found it truly amazing that the entire story, emotions and all, and the grandness of Brideshead could be condensed into a two-hour-plus movie. The movie obviously takes liberties with the book but makes it all palatable, and even fills in discoveries for us. The film even takes us to gorgeous Venice, and fills in the story nicely with tales from Sebastian's father.

The acting is mostly a hit, although I found Whishaw's Sebastian to be a caricature instead of a fully developed and lovable character, more to be pitied and even laughed at. Goode's Ryder is as complicated as he should be, seduced and seductor both. Michael Gambon is quite compelling as Sebastian's father, who escaped to India to get out from under her ladyship's rule. And Emma Thompson is surprisingly good, convincingly narrow, as Lady Marchmain, a woman who could single-handedly make a mess out of her children's lives.

I highly recommend Brideshead. And, for an easy comparison, see the original 1982 production, if you can. At that point, you might have the best of both Bridesheads.

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