It’s revisiting “Brideshead Revisited,” since many vividly remember that lavish, 11-episode British mini-series first shown on PBS in 1982 and released on DVD in 2006.
Set in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, it’s a story of lost innocence as an unsophisticated, middle-class Oxford student/painter, Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode), strikes up a friendship with aristocratic Lord Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whitshaw). To Ryder, their ambiguous relationship opens whole new world that revolves around class, money, religion and privilege; it’s an experience that–for him–encompasses great happiness and deep despair. An estate in Yorkshire, Castle Howard, stands in for Brideshead as a symbol of an archaic, ancestral domain ruled over by Lord and Lady Marchmain (Michael Gambon, Emma Thompson).
Based on Evelyn Waugh’s 351-page novel, written in 1945, it’s been intelligently adapted for the screen by Andrew Davis (“Bridget Jones’s Diary”) and Jeremy Brock (“The Last King of Scotland”) and tastefully, impeccably directed by Julian Jarrold (“Becoming Jane,” “Kinky Boots”) with occasional touches of sardonic humor.
By necessity, they’ve condensed the sprawling saga to less than two hours, emphasizing the poignant love triangle of Charles, Sebastian and Sebastian’s spirited sister, Julia (Hayley Atwell), adding ‘new’ Venetian segments with the approval of the Waugh estate. The homoerotic relationship between Charles and the overtly swishy Sebastian is more explicit than in the mini-series, since they share a quick kiss, a gesture that then leads to an uneasy awkwardness between them.
The performances–particularly Emma Thompson’s–while superb are overly mannered, in accordance with the stunning production values. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Brideshead Revisited” is a pensive, melancholy 8. Yet what’s been sacrificed for brevity is the decline of the British aristocracy, which was a major theme of the novel.