Published Jul 24, 2008Taking cinematic scissors to Evelyn Waughs deceptively complicated tome, this latest adaptation of Brideshead Revisited shuffles its syntax, manufactures a love triangle and brings subtext to the fore, creating a new concoction that successfully merges its medium with its template.
Helmed by serial literary adaptor Julian Jarrold (televisions White Teeth, Crime and Punishment and Great Expectations), the film will bait purists with both its brazen alterations and paradoxical faithfulness. Like the book, it follows Charles Ryders (Matthew Goode) recount of his pre-WWII relations with the aristocratic Flyte family, especially Sebastian (Ben Whishaw) and his sister Julia (Hayley Atwell). While the novel follows Ryder through two distinct epochs that brush lightly against one another, the film mashes the two eras together with abandon, filling in the blanks without plodding. Surprisingly, it works.
Undeterred by temporal constraints, Jarrold deftly paces and manipulates the action, trimming the fat whilst maintaining essential plot points and thematic concerns (religion, social aspiration, etc.). Though some of the books subtlety falls victim to brevity, its theses remain intact. Conversely, Jarrold manages to cleverly include a number of touchstones (i.e., a carefully placed skull, an engraved turtle) without bloating the picture.
A similar setting, prose pedigree and symbolic landscape (i.e., a big fountain) inevitably evoke Atonement comparisons, albeit erroneously. Whereas Joe Wrights film revels in melodrama, Brideshead eschews it in favour of pointed satire. Though the two share lush visuals, the latters beauty is juxtaposed with its characters cruelty and fallibility to compelling effect. Occasionally the sensory titillation is applied with too heavy a hand (i.e., slow motion tracking shots and tightly shot monologues) but Andrew Davies and Jeremy Brocks erudite script tempers the dalliances with self-awareness and humour.
As Charles Ryder, Goode more than holds his own with the stellar cast, particularly Michael Gambons prodigal patriarch and Emma Thompsons abandoned zealot. Fluid and layered, his Ryder evolves and devolves authentically, morphing from an idealistic neophyte into a cocksure artist before ultimately resigning his self-entitlement for repentant cynicism.
Whereas the always-strong Whishaw (see Perfume: The Story of a Murderer and Im Not There) gets the ostentatious role, its Goode that has the breadth to delve deeply, which he does with judiciousness and measured confliction. (Maple)