Brideshead Revisited (2008) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • WWII. Charles Ryder, in his civilian life, rose out of his middle class London background, which includes being an atheist and having a distant relationship with his eccentric father, to become an up and coming artist. He is currently an army officer, who is stationed at a makeshift camp set up at Brideshead estate before imminently getting shipped into battle. The locale, which is not unfamiliar to him, makes him reminisce about what ended up being his doomed relationship with Brideshead's owners, the Flytes, an ostentatiously wealthy family. Charles first met Sebastian Flyte when they both were students at Oxford, where Sebastian surprisingly welcomed Charles into his circle of equally wealthy, somewhat stuck up and flamboyant friends. Charles ended up getting caught up in Sebastian's family struggles, where Sebastian used excessive alcohol to deal with the pain resulting from his family relationships. Although Charles and Sebastian were more than just friends, Charles ultimately fell in love with Sebastian's sister, Julia Flyte. But the biggest obstacle to Charles being intimately involved with anyone in the Flyte family was the family matriarch, Lady Marchmain, a strict and devout Catholic who ruled the family with that adherence to a strict Catholic lifestyle. That was despite her and Lord Marchmain's own marriage being in name only, as he lived in Venice with his mistress, Cara.

  • The memoirs of Captain Charles Ryder who is stationed at Brideshead Castle during WWII and remembers his involvement with the owners of the Brideshead estate: the aristocratic yet Catholic Flyte family and in particular brother and sister Sebastian and Julia.

  • Talented London painter Charles Ryder escapes his petty bourgeois dad by starting history studies in Oxford. There, he becomes the best friend of Sebasian Flyte, a mundane heir who invites Charles to his peerage family's grand country estate at Brideshead. The whole family takes to charming Charles during an unforgettable summer and invites him along to visit Sebastian's 'estranged' father, Lord Marchmain, in Venice. There he falls in love with Sebastian's sister, Julia, but is judged unacceptable.

  • A poignant story of forbidden love and the loss of innocence set in England prior to the Second World War.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • WWII. The British headquarters move to Brideshead, a mansion in the middle of the English countryside, and Charles is one of those in charge. He happens to be the narrator of the story, and while he makes some comments about the uncomfortability of the place and its inadequate geography, he also remembers with fondness his past happiness there.

    A painter who is showcasing his last South-American jungle-themed collection leaves the party where many East-Coast millionaires are buying his paintings. He sees a woman and goes after her. When she has reached her first-class cabin, she turns and says "Hello, Charles."

    Flashback to Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) starting his first year at Cambridge, and his cousin Jasper (Richard Teveron) shows him around. Charles wants to be a painter, but he must study something more practical, so he goes for History. He gets a room in the ground floor of one of the dorms. Even before he has unpacked, a drunk student appears and throws up in the floor. The next day, Charles gets some flowers from that student, Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw) a homosexual English Lord who hangs out with Anthony Blanche (Joseph Beattie) - a flamboyant homosexual as well - and Boy Mulcaster (Mark Field).

    Sebastian and Charles become friends, but they never fulfill their sexual desire - an unsolved sexual tension grows on between then. Sebastian takes Charles to see Brideshead, the manor mansion of his family, and Nanny (Rita Davies), an elderly lady who has always taken care of Sebastian and who says that she is praying for Sebastian's soul. Charles considers this a bit odd, but he doesn't make any comment about it. They leave before Sebastian's mother appear with some Conservative ladies. On such a rush visit, Charles can only catch glimpses of the paintings at Brideshead. He leaves fascinated and mesmerized with the palace, the views, the art, the ever-obliging servicepeople. Also, on their way out, Charles catches a glimpse of Sebastian's older sister, Julia (Hayley Atwell).

    Summer holidays. Charles finds his father's (Patrick Malahide) company utterly boring, so he runs to Brideshead after Sebastian sends a telegramme asking Charles to come because he was in an accident. Sebastian only injured his foot. Charles and Sebastian get closer and closer.

    Charles will know the rest of the family: Cordelia, (Felicity Jones), who sends money to some African nuns so that they christen an African girl with her name, Brideshead "Bridey" (Ed Stoppard), business-minded and too formal, and mother-of-four Lady Marchmain (Emma Thomson), who is a die-hard Catholic, the tyrant of her house. However, this time, in spite of her objections, Sebastian and Julia will visit their estranded father (Michael Gambon),and Charles tags along.

    They are happy there. They also meet Cara (Greta Scacchi), the father's lover. She tells Charles that Sebastian will always like men, but that for Charles himself will be only a phase. During the Carnival, Charles kisses Julia, who will run away afterwards. Sebastian sees that kiss, and his mood towards everything changes.

    When they return to Brideshead, Sebastian takes to drinking too much, and Lady Marchmain tells Charles that he could never possibly marry Julia, as Charles is an Atheist. Lady Marchmain asks Charles to take care of Sebastian for Julia's 21st birthday party. He gives Sebastian money so that he can buy more drink. Sebastian makes a fool of himself at the party. Julia announces that he is going to marry Rex Mottram (Jonathan Cake), richer than her own family, and a Catholic. She may not be really in love with Rex, and Cordelia thinks Rex is horrible. Lady Marchmain puts Charles out as he has given money to Sebastian.

    Four years later, Charles is hard at work, painting. He meets Celia Mulcaster (Anna Madeley) while at work. They marry soon.

    Lady Marchmain appears to ask a favour of Charles: to bring Sebastian back from Morocco. Although Charles refuses at first, he'll travel there. He finds that Sebastian is really sick, and he doesn't want to come back to Brideshead. Charles says that Sebastian has found some piece of mind while working on a monk abbey. Soon afterwards of acknowledging Sebastian's refusal, Lady Marchmain dies.

    Back at the party, Celia insists that Charles should socialize with the wealthy party-goers. Anthony Blanche appears, seemingly mocking himself and Charles. Anthony says that Charles is ambitious. Anthony makes a comment that, when Charles decided to spend the holidays with Sebastian and Julia, Charles would be like a sheep among the wolves, but he realises that it happen all the opposite way, because Charles has hunted both Sebastian and Julia. "There is no stop to your ambition", he says, and Charles doesn't even pretend to reject this preposition.

    Charles and Julia make love, (finally). Later, they go to the bar, and they decide each one of them will leave their spouse and live together, maybe in Paris or Italy. Back at Brideshead, Bridey arrives to have dinner with them, telling them of his approaching marriage to a strict Catholic who would never visit somebody living in sin. Julia gets deeply upset because of it. Charles talks to Rex. He'll free her in exchange for some of Charles' paintings.

    Cordelia appears to say that Sebastian is healthy again, and that he's stayed at the hospital to work there. When Charles and Julia are about to leave Brideshead, Lord Marchmain appears to die at his old home, so Julia feels she can't leave. He refuses to see Father Mackay (Niall Buggy). Lord Marchmain says that he and Charles have betrayed Sebastian. In a conversation with Julia, Charles realises -and admits aloud- that he's always wanted Brideshead.

    Lord Marchmain makes the sign of the cross and receives the last rites just before he dies, in view of all the family. Julia won't be able to resist: her faith prevents her from leaving Brideshead. Charles leaves alone, and wonders if he wanted too much, or whether he was blind to their strong faith.

    WWII. The British headquarters move to Brideshead and Charles is one of those in charge. He talks with Hooper (Thomas Morrison), a soldier who believes that this life is all there is. Hooper says that the older brother has died and there is a sister who normally lives in the house, but is currently overseas with the women's service. Charles goes into the house and enters the chapel, dipping his fingers in the holy water. He walks over to a statue of Mary and young Jesus and a burning candle and stands there remembering Sebastian and Julia. He holds his wet fingers in front of the candle flame, intending to snuff it out, then decides not to and leaves the chapel. We see his unfocused figure walking out of the house.

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