Choppy adaptation still worth a visit
By Matt Brunson
DIRECTED BY Julian Jarrold
STARS Matthew Goode, Ben Whishaw
Think of the new film version of Brideshead Revisited as instant coffee: If you don't have time to savor the 300-plus pages of Evelyn Waugh's 1945 novel or all 11 hours of the 1981 British miniseries, then a quick gulp of this 135-minute adaptation might suffice.
Roughly set between the two world wars, the story finds middle-class Brit Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) becoming deeply involved with the members of the aristocratic Flyte family. At college, he's befriended by the rowdy dandy Sebastian (Ben Whishaw), who eventually takes him to his family's palatial estate, Brideshead. There, Charles acquaints himself with Sebastian's lovely sister Julia (Hayley Atwell), and soon he realizes that he's more comfortable with hetero- rather than homosexual love. Sebastian is heartbroken, while the siblings' frosty, control-freak mother, the devoutly Catholic Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson), doesn't consider Charles a proper suitor for her daughter, given the fact that he's an atheist.
Even those not familiar with Waugh's book or the TV show should get the feeling as they watch this movie that something's missing. Forget about changes from the original text: On its own terms, this often feels rushed and choppy, with relationships unsatisfactorily turning on a dime and director Julian Jarrold failing to provide the piece with enough of a Merchant-Ivory luster to hide any narrative deficiencies (Jarrold's Jane Austen yarn, Becoming Jane, was similarly agreeable yet equally uninspired). But the meat-and-potatoes portion of Waugh's work -- the role of religion in a person's life -- remains intact, leading to weighty conflicts rarely seen in modern movies. This focus alone makes the material worth revisiting yet again.