Two young men meet at Oxford. Charles Ryder, though of no family or money, becomes friends with Sebastian Flyte when Sebastian throws up in his college room through an open window. He then ...
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Two young men meet at Oxford. Charles Ryder, though of no family or money, becomes friends with Sebastian Flyte when Sebastian throws up in his college room through an open window. He then invites Charles to lunch after his teddy bear Aloysius "refuses to talk to him" unless he is forgiven. Charles becomes involved with Sebastian's family, Catholic peers of the realm in Protestant England. The story is told in flashback as Charles, now an officer in the British Army, is moved with his company to an English country house that he discovers to be Brideshead, Sebastian's family home where Charles has a series of memories of his youth and young manhood, his loves, life, and a journey of faith and anguish.Written by
John Vogel <email@example.com>
Sir Laurence Olivier was offered his choice of roles in either Lord Marchmain or Edward Ryder (which ultimately went to Sir John Gielgud). Olivier picked Lord Marchmain, but later regretted the choice as he realized that Edward Ryder was actually a much stronger role. See more »
The voiceover in the early Venice sequences was added for the American version after producer Derek Granger saw the initial British broadcast and felt there was not a strong enough sense of the religious feelings evoked while viewing the paintings. See more »
Possibily there have been two other television adaptations from literature that have equaled "Brideshead Revisited". One, somewhat earlier and in black and white, was "The Forsythe Saga"; the other was "The Jewel in the Crown" and that was in 1983. I honestly can't think of anything of a similar magnitude in the intervening years. Not that television isn't producing great drama: the BBC's rightly acclaimed costume dramas have mostly hit the mark and writers like Alan Bleasdale and Stephen Poliakoff have given us some great contemporary stuff. It's just that television no longer seems prepared to take risks, (and its time), and give us epic serializations like "Brideshead Revisited" and "The Jewel in the Crown".
With a running time of almost 12 hours, "Brideshead ..." was, to say the least, properly detailed. We were party to the silences between the words and the inactivity between the action. We were, if you like, party to the character's every breathing moment and never for an instant was it dull. On the contrary, with one of the best casts ever assembled for a television production and with a splendid script by John Mortimer, it was thrilling.
Its hero is Charles Ryder, a somewhat vacuous young man whose sole purpose in life seems to be a 'hanger-on', primarily to the Marchmain family and, despite a few sojourns into the wilderness, if he isn't within their radar he seems not to exist at all. He is played by Jeremy Irons, an actor who can perfectly capture the pallid in-consequentiality of someone who exists only in the eyes of others. It is Charles who tells us the tale and it is the tale of the Marchmains, firstly of Sebastian and latterly of Julia.
It is through Sebastian that he first encounters the family; Sebastian, the beautiful, slightly effete and, as it turns out, dipsomaniac young lord who befriends him at Oxford. Though never explicit, we must assume they become lovers and in a sexual way. Charles never makes any bones about loving Sebastian and later, even when embroiled in an affair with Julia, it is Sebastian who fills his thoughts. Charles, it would appear, is truly bisexual, though finally it is with women that he consummates his relationships. Sebastian, on the other hand, is gay and a drunk; self-loathing, not because of his sexuality which he seems to happily accept, but because of who he is, a Marchmain. The love of Sebastian's life turns out not to be Charles but Kurt, a young German deserter even more in need of love and affection than he. Even when Charles severs all ties with the Marchmains after he and Sebastian 'break up', he keeps being drawn back into their circle, finally embarking on a passionate love affair with Sebastian's sister, Julia.
The Marchmains are Catholics and that is something of an anachronism in the English gentry. Their Catholicism overwhelms them. Where none of them seems to have a 'profession' their Catholicism becomes their profession; their private chapel is their bank and their faith is their currency. it alienates both Sebastian and Julia whose sex-drives are at logger-heads with the teachings of their Church. (Julia, even more so than Sebastian, is overwhelmed by guilt but then, she doesn't have the demon drink to fall back on). Brideshead, the older son and Cordelia, the younger daughter, on the other hand, seem positively priest-like and nun-like in their asexuality. Lady Marchmain is a cold gorgon of respectability whose self-righteousness has driven, first her husband from her and then her son. Lord Marchmain lives with his married French mistress in Venice.
All these characters are beautifully delineated and played. Olivier is a magisterial Lord Marchmain while Claire Bloom has seldom been better than as Lady Marchmain and, given time to fully develop their characters, Diana Quick, (Julia), Simon Jones, (Brideshead), and Phoebe Nichols, (Cordelia), are superbly cast as other members of the family. And then there is Sebastian: Anthony Andrews performance is one of the great pieces of acting. Sebastian is, by nature, theatrical but Andrews breaks down his theatricality and gets to the very core of the character. His drunk scenes are phenomenal and, as he breaks down, he is extraordinarily moving. He departs from the series about half way through but his presence is felt to the very end.
Four other performances stand out. John Gielgud is a wonderfully comic foil as Iron's supercilious father; John Grillo is properly oily as the toadying Mr Samgrass, (he is like the snake in the Garden of Eden); Stephane Audran is an oasis of calm sensuality as Cara, Lord Marchmain's mistress and Nickolas Grace is magnificent as Anthony Blanche, Sebastian's flamboyant, outré gay friend at Oxford. So indelibly does Grace inhabit the role that I found it impossible to separate the actor from the part. His performance seems to transcend acting altogether, though I am sure Mr Grace isn't like Anthony at all in real life. These are the kind of performances and this is the kind of television that makes you glad that someone had the wherewithal to invent the medium in the first place. It's a masterpiece.
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