Brideshead Revisited (review)

I wanted to like this, because it’s British and costume-y and 1920s and 30s and I’m a complete sucker for all that jazz. And I just can’t. It’s a sumptuous production and it’s well acted by a lovely cast and it’s got all the right pedigrees — a script by Andrew Davies, who writes plummy BBC things adapted from Jane Austen, and Jeremy Brock (The Last King of Scotland); director Julian Jarrold, who made the on-the-surface not-dissimilar Becoming Jane — and it is boring as white toast. Hey, in fact, it’s rather like its protagonist, Charles Ryder: really quite handsome to look at but so damn tedious and somber that you want to smack some sense into him. (Full disclosure: I’ve never read the Evelyn Waugh novel and I’ve never seen the 1981 miniseries, so I honestly have only this movie in my head.) It’s hard to say whether it may be some fault of this transfer to the screen or of the source material, but someone needs to get over himself. Matthew Goode is a decent enough actor — you’ve seen him in Match Point — but he cannot make Ryder sympathetic in the least: he’s a young man with no personality who makes the sorry mistake of glomming onto the superrich aristocratic Flyte siblings, mistaking their wealth-induced ennui for personality on their part. It’s supposed to be tragic, I assume, for the comparatively poor Ryder to be so suckered in by money and titles and ridiculously big houses that he ruins his life in the pursuit of them — whether his relationship with Sebastian (Ben Whishaw: I’m Not There) is ever sexual is as circumspect here as, I’ve heard, the novel itself is, but he’s definitely getting it on with Julia (Hayley Atwell: Cassandra’s Dream). Yet it’s hard to care all that much for his troubles, as self-involved as they are. Yes, Emma Thompson (I Am Legend) as the Flytes’ mother is delicious, but the movie ain’t, alas, about her.

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