Movie Review: Brideshead Revisited (2008)

I had originally planned to spend my Wednesday evening at a screening of Death Race at Northpark. I knew it wasn’t going to be a movie that I would rave about later to friends, but it was free, and I figured it would diversify my blogging.

Then I got an invite to a free screening of Brideshead Revisited at the Magnolia. Much more my style AND the email boasted a brief Q&A afterward with the film’s star, Matthew Goode. People, the universe has granted me an early birthday present.

It’s no secret that I have quite a few celebrity crushes, and he’s been one since I saw Chasing Liberty in 2004. My inner twelve year old was screaming with glee. I was going to be sharing the same air space with a very cute, very British, very tall boy.

Despite my glee, I was quite calm as the packed theater awaited the beginning of the film. As usual, I hadn’t read the book, and I’d only seen one trailer. I had gotten an Atonement feel from the trailer, but that was mainly due to the era and the undercurrent of class struggle.

There’s much more class struggle to this one than to Atonement. The conflict in Atonement was mainly due to a little girl’s huge misunderstanding of very adult “things.” The conflict in Brideshead Revisited is quintessentially British: religion and status.

Goode is the attention-starved Charles Ryder. Charles suffers from a middle class upbringing. His mother died when he was young, and his father is dry and incapable of showing love and affection. When Charles arrives at Oxford to study history, he meets the beguiling Sebastian Flyte and is introduced to a world he thought possible only in his most vivid dreams.

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Sebastian (Ben Whishaw) and Charles fill each other’s need for companionship and strike up a quick friendship, but it’s quite obvious that Sebastian would prefer it be less platonic. Although Charles cherishes Sebastian’s company, he is hypnotized by Sebastian’s world.

Charles, an aspiring artist, is automatically speechless at the sight of Brideshead, the estate on which Sebastian grew up. His mouth practically waters as he begs Sebastian to let him tour the manor and grounds before the matriarch, Lady Marchmain (played brilliantly by Emma Thompson), returns.

When Lady Marchmain arrives, she brings Julia Flyte (Hayley Atwell), Sebastian’s beautiful sister, and Charles fully succumbs to the spell of Brideshead. He is a good and honest young man, but even the most virtuous of men cannot say no to the display of decadence and eccentricity which Sebastian and Julia provide him.

Every void must be filled, and Lady Marchmain’s saintly adherence to the Catholic faith more than fills the void made by Sebastian’s apparent lack of morality. She is exacting and pious to the extreme, which gives Charles one more thing with which to be fascinated. He soon finds that his lack of faith will be the barrier to his assimilation with the family.

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While Sebastian may be the black sheep, Julia aptly calls herself the “family’s shadow.” As Sebastian, a truly tortured soul, spins faster and faster into an alcohol induced downward spiral, Julia does her best to do as Mummy and her faith require, and Charles becomes more and more entangled in Lady Marchmain’s web.

The Q&A after the film was a unique experience. While I had viewed Charles as an innocent pawn in a powerful and manipulative world, hearing Matthew talk about the role made me realize that Charles might not be as innocent as I thought.

The acting is superb; the scenery is spectacular, and even though it may not live up to the exhaustive TV miniseries from 1981, I found this production so intriguing that I’ve put the book on my “To Read” list, which sits right next to that “To Watch” list I’ve mentioned.

Click here to rent or purchase Brideshead Revisited today on Amazon Prime Video.

 

4 Comments

  1. As the mother of a 7 month old I rarely have time to actually watch movies, but I ALWAYS look forward to your insights, Ashleigh. I am definitely going to check this one out. Thanks!

     
  2. Wow, thanks, Heather! After awhile, you begin to wonder whether anybody’s reading these things. I enjoy writing them, no matter what, because I love writing, and I love movies, but it helps to know that someone else enjoys them :)

     
  3. I knew you were my kind of move critic when you admitted liking chick flicks but also took the time to explore other genres. I don’t trust a movie critic that doesn’t like chick flicks : )

     
  4. hahaha…that’s a good policy :)

     

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