out of Five
Running time: 132
For the most part, this is an enjoyable, well made and superbly acted drama, though it drags towards the end and doesn't quite pull off its emotional climax.
What's it all about?
Adapted from the novel by Evelyn Waugh (previously a successful 1980s TV series, starring Jeremy Irons), Brideshead Revisited stars Matthew Goode as Charles Ryder, a middle-class Oxford student who's taken under the wing of Sebastian (Ben Whishaw), a flamboyant fellow student whose parents are Lord and Lady Marchmain (Michael Gambon and Emma Thompson). When Sebastian takes Charles to his magnificent stately home (the Brideshead of the title), Charles is instantly smitten, particularly when he catches a glimpse of Sebastian's beautiful sister, Julia (Hayley Attwell).
After Charles spends a delirious summer at Brideshead, he becomes infatuated with Julia, while simultaneously aware that Sebastian has fallen in love with him. And as if the impassioned love triangle wasn't bad enough, Lady Marchmain makes it abundantly clear to him that his self-professed atheism is completely at odds with the Marchmain's strict Catholicism, meaning that he can never marry Julia.
The performances are excellent – it's hard to believe Goode's claims that he didn't watch the TV series in preparation when his Jeremy Irons impression is this good. More importantly, he ensures that Charles remains sympathetic (also due in no small part to Patrick Malahide's wonderful turn as Charles' affection-less father), even when he's revealed as a rather ruthless social climber.
Whishaw is equally good, delivering a sensitive, thoughtful performance that ensures that you genuinely care for Sebastian. Similarly, Attwell is utterly captivating as Julia, while Thompson is cast against type to chilling effect and Gambon is typically brilliant as the hedonistic Lord Marchmain.
Unfortunately, the film suffers badly in the final act and once Sebastian disappears, all the life goes out of the story. As a result, it drags horribly towards the end and is at least 20 minutes too long.
On balance, the fantastic performances ensure that Brideshead Revisited remains worth seeing, despite a disappointing finale and the lack of an emotional punch.
Brideshead Revisited (12A)