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Evelyn Waugh's 'Brideshead Revisited' is, I think, the quintessential and
the finest novel of the twentieth century - English literature at its
highest form. And this 1981 miniseries does the novel great justice: its
episodes give us television's finest hours.
The splendid cast makes the most of the rich script, which is as faithful to a novel as a script can be. My favorite is Phoebe Nicholls as Lady Cordelia: her performance is disarming, utterly charming. And Nickolas Grace plays to the hilt the sybaritic, viper-tongued Anthony Blanche.
Jeremy Irons does sterling service as the narrator, Charles Ryder, who is, after all, Waugh's observant eye and eloquent tongue; Irons depicts poignantly Ryder's "conversion to the Baroque" crashing to bits against the cold gracelessness of "The Age of Hooper". As the rapidly dissolving Lord Sebastian Flyte Anthony Andrews is memorable - should Waugh's book ever again be adapted for the screen the lot of the actor cast as Sebastian will not be enviable.
Claire Bloom's Lady Marchmain is a study in quiet dignity upheld vainly in the face of the twentieth century's ravaging of her character's world and sensibilities. Sir Laurence Olivier's Lord Marchmain is letter-perfect; and in the deathbed sequences Olivier's performance is tenderly, expertly nuanced.
Diana Quick was a bit too old to play convincingly the debutante Lady Julia of the early episodes, but in the later ones Quick hits perfectly every disillusioned, jaded, repentant note. Charles Keating as Rex, who inhabits a "harsh acquisitive world", is an exemplar of shallowness, of the venality Waugh detested - and satirized so hilariously in his earlier novels: he's nothing more than a Hooper with money and ambition.
Simon Jones gives us Bridey's stodginess and bewliderment with marvelous understatement. John Gielgud steals every scene as Charles's father Edward, brilliantly interpreting of one of Waugh's most delicious, yet indigestible characters.
There are rich offerings, too, from character actors: Stephane Audran glows warmly as Clara, Lord Marchmain's insightful, intuitive, down-to-earth mistress; John LeMesurier leaves us suitably agape as the Jesuit Father Mowbray baffled and dismayed by Rex's utilitarian approach to his conversion to Catholicism; Jeremy Sinden sails naively along as the indefatigable yet ever-dimwitted and clueless Boy Mulcaster; Ronald Fraser stirs just the right sloshing of queasiness as the peculiar, opportunistic shipboard cocktail party guest; Jonathan Coy, as the parlous, seedy Kurt, is perfectly repellent; Jane Asher tiptoes delicately through Celia Ryder's conventional, porcelain sensibilities; and Mona Washbourne knits a thoughtful, lovely portrait of Nanny Hawkins.
Throughout 'Brideshead Revisited' the photography is lush, meticulous, yet tasteful. The score is understated, never intrusive, always complementary. Costuming, set design and, above all, location, are unrivalled. Charles Sturridge's direction is evenhanded, assured - and his pacing of the narrative treads adroitly every beautifully-modulated beat.
I bought the DVD version of this series and, though occasional bits of the image transfer are a trifle fuzzy and the sound re-recording is sometimes uneven, the nicely boxed set of discs pleased - and goes on pleasing - me greatly.
In the early third millennium, a time of evermore immature programming and production executives - a dismal age of TV's Hoopers, I have to suspect sadly that television will never again attain the heights to which 'Brideshead Revisited' vaulted. But I shall remain ever grateful for this magnificent series.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There are only a few opportunities in one's life to see such an excellent
adaptation of a great novel. John Mortimer has done a wonderful job of
adapting Evelyn Waugh's masterpiece, "Brideshead Revisited." None of the
plot from the novel is left out, and all the characters retain their
original qualities. Only a few moments of Charles' narration is left out
the series. The series does great justice to the novel, and it is a truly
excellent experience. The novel is a brilliant story of loss and
filled with many superb characters, it is one of the greatest novels of
20th century. Because an entire essay can be devoted to the content of
story I will only be talking about the production of the
First and foremost, the series is directed by Charles Sturridge and
Lindsay-Hogg. Unfortunately, as is the case for all television, the
directing is not that good from a visual point of view. The directors'
handling of the actors is quite good, however the camera angles are
they are almost all in closeup. The cinematography is good enough, (it
hardly look bad with those locations) but the transfer on the DVD is not
great, there are a few moments of fuzziness. Aside from the visual
components, the production values are irreproachable. The entire series
shot on real locations, Oxford, Castle Howard, QB II, and all the
are correct. The essence of the period is remarkably well
Jeremy Irons is masterly in the role of Charles Ryder, he has a wonderfully understated, yet passionate quality. His narration is absolutely mesmerizing. This is Jeremy's star-making performance, and it is one of the most brilliant I have ever seen. His transition from youth to middle-age is extraordinary.
Anthony Andrews plays Sebastian Flyte. If you see Brideshead for no other reason, see it for this brilliant, one of a kind performance. It is impossible to forget Anthony Andrews in this role, his facial expressions and appearance epitomize the destruction of innocence. He commands your attention even in scenes with Jeremy Irons and Laurence Olivier. I have never seen a drunkard played better. Andrews brings genuinely tragic overtones to the story.
Diana Quick is miss-cast in the role of Julia Flyte. The character in the book is supposed to be extremely beautiful and look just like Sebastian. Diana Quick was too old for the role, and her looks to not grab you. Still, it was a very fine performance, though at times she seems to have received bad direction. The fountain scene is rather studied.
Jane Asher is quite good in the role of Celia Ryder, she is extraverted, and unbearably irritating in the role as she should be.
Nickolas Grace is wonderfully comic, though very theatrical in the role of Anthony Blanche. He steals all of his scenes. No actor can speak with a stutter better than he,
John Grillo is humorous in the role of Mr. Samgrass. He is masterly with his balance of humor and irritation.
Simon Jones gives a fine performance as Lord Brideshead. His pompousness knows no bounds.
Charles Keating is perfect as Rex Mottram, his callousness is perfectly contrasted with the other actors.
Phobe Nicholls is remarkable as Cordelia Flyte. This is one of the more difficult roles in the series, her transition from childhood to adulthood is astonishing.
Jeremy Sinden is good in the role of Boy Mulcaster. He has the perfect voice.
Laurence Olivier is absolutely astonishing as Lord Marchmain. His final deathbed scene is masterly. He isn't even moving, and yet the scene is compelling. A truly excellent performance.
Claire Bloom is superb in the role of Lady Marchmain. She is brilliant in concealing her deception.
Stephane Audran is not particularly good in the role of Cara. Most of her performance is very typical of television.
Mona Washbourne is right for the role of Nanny Hawkins. You don't even notice she's acting.
John Le Mesurier is fine in the role of Father Mowbray. He has some good comic moments.
John Gielgud is wonderful as Edward Ryder. The characters' aloofness is perfectly realized. He steals his scenes.
Thus, "Brideshead Revisited" is an excellent drama, and perhaps the finest mini-series ever made.
The book and the mini-series always broke my heart. I first read the book
and viewed the series as a teenager and it affected me much more then
"Catcher in the Rye".
It is probably one of the finest adaptations of a novel put to film. You watch as the reckless innocent fun of youth is slowly taken away and replaced by sad old cynicism.
It captures the feeling of the stolen season of peace between the world wars and the cool observant eye of Waugh who before hand always wrote detached speedy amoral stories. This seemed so...different.
The acting is so on the spot. Carefully restrained and woeful as we watch our favorite characters grow.
Everyone is of course entitled to an opinion about matters such as
this, but how anyone can rate this series as anything less than a great
milestone in television is, to my mind at least, quite difficult to
I recently re-read Evelyn Waugh's wonderful novel and was, consequently, inspired to watch the series for the fourth time, on DVD on this occasion. It is disappointing that the DVD boxed set contains no additional features as one would expect from a series which is so highly regarded by so many people. At least, interviews with the stars and comments by the Director, Charles Sturridge, would have been welcome. In that respect, the DVD set can be seen to be somewhat lacking.
However, the acting, direction, costume design, sets and John Mortimer's brilliant adaptation of the novel for television make this one of the greatest achievements in television and a demonstration of what can be accomplished in that medium with a great deal of care for detail.
What I find particularly heart-rending is the transition from the light and airy early scenes to the darker ending of the series. I am really not sure whether this comment contravenes the "spoiler" guidelines but I suspect that I'm on reasonable safe ground in that regard.
I would go so far as to suggest that "Brideshead Revisited" lives up to the comments which were made about it at the time of its release in the early '80s that it is one of the greatest television series ever produced and it is hardly surprising to me at least that a series of such enduring quality emanated from the UK.
10 out of 10 from me. I am looking forward to reading the book and seeing the series again at some time in the not too distant future.
Please do yourselves a great favour and read the novel and then see the series. You will find, as I have done, that it is a true classic and a faithful adaptation from the novel to the small screen.
Brilliantly adapted by John Mortimer from Evelyn Waugh's celebrated
novel of England between the first and second World Wars, BRIDESHEAD
REVISITED may be the best miniseries ever made. Smoothly and subtly
directed by Charles Sturridge and Michael Lindsay-Hogg, the twelve hour
program is beautiful to look at, the cast is remarkable, and the story
has amazing impact.
The miniseries follows the novel closely, beginning near the end of World War II as Charles Ryder (Jeremy Irons) grows disdainful of military life, which he finds a study in futility--and then flashes back twenty years as Ryder recalls his relationship with the aristocratic Marchmain family, a relationship that begins when he becomes friendly with Marchmain son Sebastian Flyte (Anthony Andrews) while the two are students at Oxford.
The miniseries captures perfectly a golden moment of youth--and then the gradual disillusionment brought by the passage of time. Like all great works, BRIDESHEAD REVISITED--both book and film--touches on a great many themes, most specifically an innocent type of homoeroticism, loss of innocence, alcoholism, adultery, and changing society; ultimately, however, the story is about spiritual values and how they survive in even the most unlikely of circumstances--and how God works through individuals in the most unexpected ways.
The performances here are truly fine beyond description. Jeremy Irons has seldom surpassed his work here, and neither Anthony Andrews nor Dianna Quick (as Julia, Sebastian's sister) have ever bested their performances in this film. In addition to the three leads, the miniseries offers an incredible array of superior performances by John Gielgud, Claire Bloom, and Laurence Olivier; the cinematography and art design is flawless; and the score by Geoffrey Burgon is exquisite. Mortimer's script is remarkable in that it not only manages to recreate the novel, it also manages to capture the intangible, spiritual elements upon which the book plays but seldom directly references. A must-own work for any one who appreciates the best of the best; strongly, strongly recommended.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
It is exceptional to find something in life that improves with age. Brideshead Revisited is one of those exalted things. Having just completed watching the entire series I can say that it is actually better than I remembered when I first saw it over 15 years ago. Seldom do so many things (cast, writing, locations, costumes) come together and form a harmonious whole. Brideshead is a tour-de-force of the film maker's art that glows with a magical intensity all its own.
This is the finest series I've ever seen on television. The fact that is
based upon an excellent novel is only part of the equation. The locations,
the music, the acting - everything comes together so beautifully in this
project. Who else, besides Evelyn Waugh, writes lines like: "I was taken by
the double illusion of familiarity and strangeness." or "A thin bat-squeak
of sensuality..." or " I found myself close to heaven in those days."
I must single out Sir John Gielgud. Every time he is on screen, he is hilarious. What a treasure.
Watching this series is a bit like getting lost in reading "Lord of The Rings." You like the 'place' that they take you so much, you don't want it to end. If cable ever offered a Brideshead Revisited channel, I'd be among the first to subscribe.
The adaptation is so good that one can read Waugh's novel while watching and practically not miss a word. The lush prose of the novel is there, as well as perfect visual imagery of the settings, absolutely essential to the integrity of the piece.
A dream cast with a magnificent script (John Mortimer) brings to life Evelyn Waugh's elegiac upon the between-wars years. Golden years and golden people are lost, and the sense of loss is captured in the changes inflicted on the buildings, and in Geoffrey Burgon's heart-wrenching score. Brideshead captures the clash of humanistic values with those of old-time Catholicism, while tracing the decline of an aristocratic (somewhat precious) family, in a series that is part comedy, part romance, part tragedy. It is an enriching experience that no-one should miss.
Simply enchanting. Waugh's excellent use of English in recounting the story of the doomed Marchmain family is brought to life without losing one iota of its charm and power. I doubt that anyone will be able to imagine anyone other than Anthony Andrews as Sebastian or Nikolas Grace as Anthony Blanche; Jeremy Irons gives a well-rounded performance, Diana Quick is suitably gorgeous and a host of great English actors (Gielgud, Olivier et al) lend support to a fantastic script and excellent direction. See this.
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