Brideshead Revisited (review)

Get new reviews in your email in-box or in an app by becoming a paid Substack subscriber or Patreon patron.

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.

share and enjoy
If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
If you haven’t commented here before, your first comment will be held for MaryAnn’s approval. This is an anti-spam, anti-troll measure. If you’re not a spammer or a troll, your comment will be approved, and all your future comments will post immediately.
notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
view all comments
Nick Plowman
Fri, Jul 25, 2008 1:03pm

I want to like this, I loved the original series.

Kathy Shepard
Kathy Shepard
Mon, Jul 28, 2008 11:58am

I just watched the DVD last night and was happily enjoying the characters and mildly engaging plot. The women’s relationships seemed plausible and interesting, until the end. How ridiculous that every single one of them had a “happily ever after” conclusion! And then only when they had their hair done up properly. Sorry, but the ending really scotched it for me. I’ve never read any Austen, and I was considering doing so as the movie progressed (these interesting, intelligent women seemed so taken with the literature), but the ending was so trite I was glad I’d never wasted my time with the books!

Fri, Aug 01, 2008 6:34am

I’m glad I read this review, as it confirms what the trailer told me- that the book and tv-series have been utterly disregarded, and made into Hollywood’s puppet yet again.

Sat, Aug 09, 2008 10:43pm

Man, I’m not into the 1920s period costume crap at all, so the next time someone who actually likes that stuff tells me a movie like that is no good, I’m gonna listen. But this got sterling reviews by others, and I’m always so delighted when one of these things actually has a breath of life in it (“Atonement” was one of them).

MaryAnn is totally right, this is boring by-the-numbers bullshit. Too respectable, far too lifeless to sit through. And yes, Matthew Goode is a large part of the problem. Even before I realized that was him, I was thinking of “Match Point” because the main character is kept at a firm distance from the audience. Of course, that’s for damn good reason in “Match Point,” but just indicates grand failure for “Brideshead Revisited.” Goode is good at being creepily opaque (he’ll be brilliant in “Watchmen,” you wait and see), but James McAvoy he is not.

Jody Bower
Jody Bower
Sun, Aug 10, 2008 10:12am

I loved the miniseries (recently rewatched it and it has held up beautifully), and had a lot of misgivings about the movie from what I’d read. Went to see it anyway, and found it a big yawn. Ben Wishaw has none of Anthony Andrews’s charm as Sebastion. Clare Bloom’s Lady Marchmain was a steel fist inside a delicate lace glove; Emma Thompson omits the glove.

My main objection is that the script has people constantly telling the audience what is going on, instead of letting the action and actors convey it to us. That’s bad writing. Is Andrew Davies losing it? “Sense & Sensibility” was better than Emma’s version, and “Bleak House” was fabulous, but his recent “A Room with a View” was horrible. I don’t know whether to be glad or worried that he’s adapting another of my favorite books, “Middlemarch.”

Mon, Aug 11, 2008 1:13pm

I’m glad that I read this review because the trailer was one big turn off. I have read the book (which I loved) and watched the miniseries. The main reason why I didn’t want to see the film, was because instead of focusing on the Sebastian and Charles relationship as it is in the book, they interjected Julia, and I’m sorry but Julia wasn’t half as intresting as Sebastian. That why you find yourself pining for him in the rest of the story once he’s gone. I don’t remember Lady Marchman being so out right bitchy either. She was way more passive aggressive about in that refined way that sets your teeth on edge.

Mon, Aug 11, 2008 7:43pm

Sebastian is a weenie. At least in this movie. He’s a spoiled rotten brat, and that’s the most interesting thing about him, which isn’t very interesting at all.