Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Movie Log: Brideshead Revisted

I've never seen the miniseries version of Brideshead Revisited, but I've recently seen the very Emma Thompson-heavy movie version from last year. And it's a perfectly respectable classy movie of a certain sort -- a period movie, set in England, about how it's beastly awful that all of those repressed people (often religious, as well) are so repressed.

(The Wife is quite fond of any period movie with plummy accents, so I see more than my fair share of the type.)

I haven't read the book in a decade, but I do remember it being somewhat more nuanced than the movie is -- although Charles Ryder's lust for the house comes across pretty clearly. (And, speaking of things coming across clearly, a minor character spells out the point of the movie about five minutes before the end, nudging all of us in the ribs who haven't managed to fall asleep.)

The story is familiar to readers of Evelyn Waugh's novel and those who remember the miniseries: Ryder (Matthew Goode) is a poor-but-honest student in the '20s at Oxbridge -- I think the movie specifies which, but I didn't bother remembering -- where he falls in with the rich, dissolute, and flaming Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw). Flyte takes Ryder home to the ancestral pile, Brideshead, and Ryder immediately wants to become part of Flyte's world. (Flyte wants to fuck Ryder -- that and drink heavily -- but little else.)

Everyone moans about how oppressive and unpleasant Catholicism is, particularly the type epitomized by Flyte's mummy, Lady Marchmain (Thompson). Thompson plays the role as rigid and upright, but she's no nastier than a thousand similar upright Victorians in a thousand similar movies -- she'd be an utter wimp as an aunt of Bertie Wooster's. So the hysteria surrounding her -- she's supposedly "destroyed" her estranged husband and her children with her piety -- doesn't make much sense.

And, of course, Brideshead Revisited the movie does its best to reverse the moral of Brideshead Revisited the book, since this kind of period movie is always in favor of freedom and license, which Waugh most definitely was not. It's not a bad movie, all in all, but it's barely a cartoon of Waugh's story. And it's too true to that story to provide the cathartic running-away-to-Italy ending that movies of this sort always want to have.

So Brideshead Revisited is really only for those, like my wife, who really really like this kind of movie, and will see it as many times as they can. The rest of us can take a pass.

No comments:

Post a Comment