Synopsis by Mark Deming
Evelyn Waugh's classic novel of love and the British class system has been given a polished screen adaptation in this film version from director Julian Jarrold. The tale opens during WWII, when Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode), an English military officer, is stationed at a country estate that has been converted into a military base. Jarrold uses this time-frame and setting as a framing device, and then flashes back in time to Charles' days as a scholar in the 1920s. It becomes clear that he was raised in a middle-class household; though he was fortunate enough to have been accepted into Oxford, he doesn't belong to the British upper crust. At Oxford, Charles strikes up a friendship with twentysomething Lord Sebastian (Ben Whishaw). Charles is captivated by the splendor of Sebastian's life at his family's Brideshead Castle, and he finds himself drawn into a web of decadent comfort. For Sebastian, though, the familial estate represents a prison from which he longs to escape, and in desperation, he hits the bottle. Charles develops an infatuation with Sebastian's sister, Julia (Hayley Atwell), but also senses that his bond with Sebastian may be something far deeper than simple friendship. Also present at Brideshead is Sebastian and Julia's mother, Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson), an ice water-veined woman still reeling from her abandonment some time prior at the hands of her husband. Though bitter, the matriarch perceives Charles as an emotional anchor for the increasingly unstable Sebastian, and therefore suggests that Charles join Sebastian and Julia on a trip to see their father (Michael Gambon) and his mistress (Greta Scacchi) in Venice. Unfortunately, the romantic bond between Charles and Julia deepens, which threatens to destroy Sebastian. This feature constitutes the second major version of Brideshead Revisited to reach viewers; an earlier, 11-hour miniseries adaptation ran on television in 1981.
alcoholism, Catholicism, friendship, soldier
High Artistic Quality, High Production Values