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Brideshead Revisited

Original poster
Directed by Julian Jarrold
Produced by Robert Bernstein
Kevin Loader
Douglas Rae
Written by Jeremy Brock
Andrew Davies
Based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh
Starring Emma Thompson
Matthew Goode
Ben Whishaw
Hayley Atwell
Michael Gambon
Music by Adrian Johnston
Cinematography Jess Hall
Editing by Chris Gill
Distributed by Miramax Films
Release date(s) July 25, 2008 (US)
October 3, 2008 (UK)
Running time 133 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Gross revenue $13,204,291 (Worldwide)[1]

Brideshead Revisited is a 2008 British drama film directed by Julian Jarrold. The screenplay by Jeremy Brock and Andrew Davies is based on the 1945 novel of the same name by Evelyn Waugh, which previously was adapted in 1981 as an eleven-episode television serial.



Although he aspires to be an artist, middle class Charles Ryder is studying history at the University of Oxford, where he befriends wealthy Lord Sebastian Flyte, a flamboyant homosexual and alcoholic. Sebastian's family, the noble Marchmains, strongly disapprove of both proclivities. When Sebastian takes him home to visit his nanny, Charles is enthralled by the grandeur of the Marchmain family estate, known as Brideshead, and he is entranced by its residents, including the devout Lady Marchmain and her other children, Sebastian's elder brother Bridey and his younger sisters Julia and Cordelia.

When Lord Marchmain invites Sebastian and Julia to visit him and his mistress Cara in Venice, Lady Marchmain encourages Charles to accompany them in the hope he can be a positive influence on her son. Increasingly interested in Julia, Charles surreptitiously kisses her in a dark alley, unaware Sebastian is watching from the opposite side of the canal. Jealous of his attention to his sibling, Sebastian ends their friendship. On their return to England, Lady Marchmain makes it clear Charles cannot marry her daughter since he professes to be an atheist.

Sebastian's allowance is rescinded by his mother, who is concerned about his increasing alcoholism. During a visit to Brideshead, Ryder gives Sebastian money, which he uses to purchase alcohol. When he arrives drunk and improperly dressed at a ball celebrating Julia's engagement to Canadian Rex Mottram, Lady Marchmain blames Charles and tells him he no longer is welcome at Brideshead.

Sebastian flees to Morocco where, at the request of the now terminally ill Lady Marchmain, Charles finds him hospitalised. His plan to bring him home is disrupted when the doctor warns him Sebastian is too ill to travel.

Years later, Charles - now married and a successful painter - reunites with Julia on an ocean liner en route to England from South America. They realize they are still in love and decide to leave their respective spouses and live together in Italy.

Charles returns to Brideshead and persuades Rex to step aside so he and Julia can be together. Rex agrees to the proposal in exchange for two of Charles' paintings, an arrangement that shocks and angers Julia, who feels like bartered goods. Without warning, a dying Lord Marchmain and Cara arrive at Brideshead so he can spend his final days in his former home. On his deathbed Lord Marchmain, hitherto an atheist, regains his faith and dies a devout Catholic. Deeply affected by her father's transformation, Julia decides she cannot relinquish her faith to marry Charles, and the two part.

Several years later, during World War II, Charles - now a disillusioned army captain - finds himself once again at Brideshead, which has been requisitioned by the army for a military base. A corporal tells him Julia is serving in the reserves and Bridey was killed during The Blitz. In the movie's final scene, Charles visits the family chapel, where he finds a single lit candle. He dips his hand in holy water and is about to snuff out the candle between his fingers, but he changes his mind and leaves the flame burning.


Paul Bettany, Jude Law, and Jennifer Connelly were signed for the lead roles by original director David Yates, but when he left the project to helm Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix instead, the roles were recast by replacement Julian Jarrold.[2]

Just as it did for the earlier television adaptation of Waugh's novel, Castle Howard in North Yorkshire serves as the setting for Brideshead. In The World of Brideshead, a bonus feature on the DVD release of the film, Simon Howard reveals his family was eager to welcome film crews to the estate once again. Given it became a major tourist attraction after the television serial aired, they hoped the feature film would renew interest in the property. Filming took place at Castle Howard during the summer of 2007, and many extras were employed from the local population in and around York.

Sebastian's sexual preference and the full nature of his relationship with Charles were ambiguous in Waugh's novel and the television serial. In The World of Brideshead, screenwriters Jeremy Brock and Andrew Davies reveal they intentionally changed things since they felt contemporary audiences were far less likely to be shocked by such revelations than Waugh's 1945 readers or early 1980s television viewers may have been.

The ending of the film was also altered from that of the novel. In the film, Charles leaves the family chapel at Brideshead seemingly unchanged in his atheist/agnostic leanings, although he decides not to snuff out the candle that is burning. The novel ends with Charles entering the chapel and kneeling down to pray using "ancient and newly learned words," thus implying he has recently converted to Catholicism.


Critical reception

Comparing the film to the earlier television adaptation, A.O. Scott of The New York Times called it "necessarily shorter and less faithful to Waugh's book, and also, for what it's worth, more cinematic. It is also tedious, confused and banal." He blamed director Jarrold and screenwriters Davies and Brock "for finding so little new or interesting to say . . . and for systematically stripping Waugh's novel of its telling nuances and provocative ideas." He concluded, "The long experience of English Catholics as a religious minority, the subtle gradations of class in the British university system, the crazy quilt of sexual norms and taboos governing the lives of young adults: all of this is what makes Brideshead Revisited live and breathe as a novel. None of it registers with any force in this lazy, complacent film, which takes the novel's name in vain."[3]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times observed, "While elegantly mounted and well acted, the movie is not the equal of the TV production, in part because so much material had to be compressed into such a shorter time. It is also not the equal of the recent film Atonement, which in an oblique way touches on similar issues. But it is a good, sound example of the British period drama; mid-range Merchant-Ivory, you could say."[4]

Mark Olsen of the Los Angeles Times said, "The film's strengths are in Waugh's story and not so much in the particular spin of these filmmakers. Their decision to turn up the volume on the homosexual undertones between Sebastian and Charles feels like an unimaginative nod to our modern times . . . In Brideshead, Jarrold seems too often to consciously be making an in-quotation-marks classy picture, much like last year's Atonement, in which the costumes and setting are just so, but the human drama gets lost amid the pictorial pleasantries. That the film is neither a true triumph nor a total disaster makes it somewhat difficult to justify revisiting Brideshead, apart from the hope it will inspire someone somewhere to pick up the book."[5]

David Wiegand of the San Francisco Chronicle called it "a very noble movie, which makes it interesting at times, but not often enough . . . What Jarrold has done right is to hire Andrew Davies to work with Jeremy Brock on the adaptation. There's no one better at dusting off English classics for the wide and small screens than Davies. He and Brock have done a competent job of culling just the right plot elements from Waugh's book and assembling them into a serviceable story. Whether you want to stick it out, however, is another matter entirely . . . Jarrold and his writers are more than respectful of the original source material, but compressing it all into two hours and change doesn't make for a terribly enjoyable film . . . Davies and Brock perform miracles in making this somewhat workable, but the ultimate impossibility of their task shows at the end."[6]

David Ansen of Newsweek suggested, "Think of Jarrold's briskly paced, stylish abridgment as a fine introduction to Waugh's marvelously melancholy elegy. It brings these unforgettable characters to life again, and if it sends people back to the novel, and back to the classic TV series . . . all the better. There's room for more than one Brideshead in this far less glamorous day and age."[7]

Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly graded the film B and commented, "Brideshead Revisited is opulent and watchable, yet except for Thompson's acting, it's missing something — a grander, more ambivalent vision of the England it depicts dying out. In the series, we looked at that palatial fortress of Brideshead manor and thought: Here, in one house, is a fading empire. In the movie, it's just sublime real estate."[8]

Dennis Harvey of Variety called the film "finely wrought" and added, "Purists may blanch at the screenplay's changes to the source material's narrative fine points, but its spirit survives intact . . . Goode provides a fine center of gravity as the middle-class tourist in heady but toxic upper-class realms. Thompson superbly etches a complex, eventually tragic portrait in her relatively few scenes."[2]

Geoffrey Macnab of The Independent rated the film three out of five stars and called it "flawed and uneven." He added, "In trying to shoehorn Waugh's novel into a two-hour movie, the film-makers have left characters underdeveloped while skipping over plot points and condensing material that surely requires greater exposition. Boldly – and perhaps rashly – they have almost entirely dispensed with voiceover narration. Anyone expecting an equivalent to Jeremy Irons' evocative reading of Waugh's prose will be disappointed . . . On the credit side, this Brideshead boasts a handful of very strong performances . . . Emma Thompson makes a formidable Lady Marchmain and Michael Gambon is dependable as ever as Lord Marchmain but this Brideshead is slow to build momentum. At first, it is hard to engage emotionally in a story that leaps around in time and skirts over what should be key events, but the film grows progressively stronger and more moving."[9]

Box office

The film opened on thirty-three screens in the US on July 25, 2008 and grossed $332,000 on its opening weekend, ranking twenty-first at the box office. It eventually earned $6,432,256 in the US and $6,772,035 in foreign markets for a total worldwide box office of $13,204,291.[1]

DVD release

The film was released on DVD in anamorphic widescreen format, with subtitles in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish, on January 13, 2009. Bonus features include commentary by director Julian Jarrold, producer Kevin Loader, and screenwriter Jeremy Brock, deleted scenes, and The World of Brideshead, featuring interviews with cast and crew members.



External links



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