Or should that be Brideshead Revisited Revisited? With the now classic TV series so firmly ensconced in so many minds, you have to admire Julian Jarrold and the producers of this much abridged adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s classic.
There have been criticisms already that this 133 minute version isn’t as in-depth as the 11 hour TV version to which the words “well” and “dur” spring to mind. Yes, this film loses some of the nuance and yes it feels rushed by comparison. However, we’ll take the emotional shortcuts when they’re handled by masters such as Andrew “Bleak House” Davies and Jeremy “Mrs Brown” Brock and all wrapped in the sumptuous direction of Julian “Becoming Jane” Jarrold. The result is a gorgeous, glossy and highly accessible interpretation of a tale that, thanks to its central theme, is still highly relevant.
That theme is, of course, the middle-class fascination for those "above" them. The relevance today would arguably be a Heat magazine-esque fascination with celebrities. In the days of Waugh, it was a fascination with the upper echelons of the upper classes, represented here by the self-destructive Lord Sebastian Flyte (the superb Whishaw) and his delectable sister Julia (the radiant Atwell). Their lifestyle is cat nip to Charles Ryder (Goode), who is soon caught, oh so willingly, in a strange love triangle that satirises 1930s society and allows Waugh to cast his deeply intellectual eye over the bigger issues, particular sexuality and religion.
Striding over all the issues is Thompson as the domineering, devoutly Catholic matriarch Lady Marchmain. Impressively, Thompson brings a degree of humanity to this "villainess" role, which makes her relationship with rebellious son Sebastian all the more poignant. It’s a neat touch — and yes, possibly an example of Davies’ emotional shortcutting — but it works and should ensure at least an Oscar nomination for Thompson. Her performance is also excellent counterpoint to Michael Gambon’s laissez-faire Lord Marchmain. Patrick Malahide also scores highly, particularly for laughs, as Charles’s drily sarcastic father.
Jarrold’s direction is also first rate, although equal praise should be given to the team behind the set dressing, costumes and production design. This Brideshead may be as abridged as it is revisited, but it still packs a decent emotional punch.