Thursday, January 01, 2009

Brideshead Revisited

Written By: Andrew Davies & Jeremy Brock

Directed By: Julian Jarrold

Starring: Matthew Goode, Ben Whishaw, Hayley Atwell

My Rating: 5/10

Brideshead Revisited is a British costume drama in the vein of the Merchant Ivory Productions of the 80’s and 90’s. It is sweeping, elegant and sexually charged, but keeps so many things withheld that it is difficult to connect with the characters at all. I know this is representative of what the restraints of society forced people to withhold but this film doesn’t allow you to get to the heart of the story or characters simply because the filmmakers don’t seem to have the skill to represent emotion in such a subtle way.

The story is told from the point of view of Charles (Matthew Goode), a poor working class man who goes to Oxford and falls in with the very rich Sebastian Flyte (Whishaw). They begin a relationship of sorts and Sebastian takes Charles to his home, Brideshead, where he meets his sister Julia (Hayley Atwell) and his commanding, devoutly Catholic mother (Emma Thomson). As the story unfolds it becomes apparent that this woman’s strict enforcement of Catholic guilt has destroyed each of her family members who can’t seem to forgive themselves for any indiscretions and therefore hate themselves.

Charles acts less as a typical protagonist but more as a catalyst for the events that transpire. The film is at its best and it’s darkest when it explores the fall of each individual character due to their mother’s successful attempt to make them fear their God. For a film whose basis is a homosexual relationship, I think this relationship could have been explored a bit more. The TV miniseries on BBC in the 80’s had an excuse for shying away from the homosexual elements, but in this day and age I would have thought that it could be explored more fully and that sexual tension could have been heightened to more than the odd, awkward kiss on the lips.

While the performances were all perfectly fine, there was an overall lack of charisma onscreen, even in the presence of Emma Thomson who was flaunting her thespian ways but not really achieving anything. The direction and pacing were uninspired and at no point did it rise above feeling like television. It is difficult not to be pulled into the scandaliciousness of it all but that fizzles halfway through and leads to an ending that leaves the audience to shrug their shoulders and wonder why they bothered at all.

To the uninitiated (like myself) into the world of Evelyn Waugh’s novel, there’s plenty here to entertain. The story goes along well and the performances are enjoyable. I imagine fans of the book would balk at the mediocrity of the film. It isn’t an entirely unpleasant film to watch but ultimately there’s just not enough of an ending to warrant what comes before, main characters just fall by the wayside and the final scenes feel very tacked on.

Charlene Lydon 28/12/2008

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